You ever watch that game show? Jim Perry's greatest work. Don't bring none of that Card Sharks around here.
Anyway Nats have gone from being THIS CLOSE to getting Andrew McCutchen to being THIS CLOSE to getting Chris Sale. Why the movement? Well a couple reasons. First the Pirates wanted Robles for McCutchen but the Nats didn't want to give up Robles for McCutchen. I disagree but it is their right. They will give up Robles however, and potentially Giolito as well, for Sale. What's the difference? Well with Sale you aren't hoping for a bounce back year. He was good last year. Cutch wasn't. Also Cutch has two bargain years left. Sale has three bigger bargain years left, when you factor in the premium on pitching. In short you are likely to get more from Sale, at a lower price, for longer. That's the difference.
"Great", you say "but we don't need another starting pitcher. At least not more than a CF or a closer or a catcher or let's be honest a 1B. Why trade for another starting pitcher and not one of those?" Well you could say Rizzo is just doing what Rizzo does - getting the best available rather than worry about what's out there. They did "strengthen a strength" getting Soriano. But then you think back and realize that wasn't a Rizzo move. That was a Lerner move. If you look back though you do see that Rizzo believes you can't have enough pitching.
The 2012 rotation only lost Edwin Jackson, but Rizzo didn't bargain hunt or let rookies try to fill in the 5th spot, he went out and signed a decent veteran arm in Dan Haren. Haren would be out after 2013 and Detwiler got hurt, but the Top 3 was still in place. Rizzo could have went with those guys and tried a mix of Roark, Ohelndorf, Jordan, maybe Karns in the back of the rotation. Nope. He went out and traded for Doug Fister leaving only one spot up for grabs. After 2014 there were actually no holes in the rotation, but Rizzo knew holes would be coming soon so he went out and along with Boras/Lerner signed Max Scherzer. Roark got pushed off for a year to come back in 2016 when ZNN left and opened up a spot. Now that injury and performance has made us doubt Strasburg, Ross, and Gio Rizzo looks to go out and trade for Sale. It fits a pattern.
But there's another reason you trade for Sale as a priority beyond talent, value, and preference. A reason that I hate to bring up but hangs over the team almost every year. You trade for Sale because of payroll. You see the Nats are basically at 150 million in payroll right now, factoring in arbitration salaries. That's about what the Nats would like to spend by all indications, maybe slightly too much. They've kicked Revere to the curb and let Petit walk as expected. Still though, that just gets them down to their max. They can't take in a big contract without losing one. They don't have that many left they can afford to lose though. Danny Espinosa is one but he can't cover a Cutch or Sale himself. The one contract that can is Gio. But if you bring in Cutch and trade Gio you've got a more questionable rotation situation. Gio wasn't great anymore but he was fine for a back of the rotation pitcher and more importantly he was reliable. You have to replace that. Bring in Sale and trade Gio... well everything matches up fine then. This is cynical but after the Nats went through last season at 145 and didn't add serious payroll at trade deadline it was clear the drop from their 2015 peak wasn't strategic. It was a return to normal.
The White Sox would have liked Turner for Sale. This is ridiculous. The White Sox kind of know that. Their fans don't. But it is! Sale is a unique commodity, an ace, still young, under very reasonable contract control for three seasons. That should fetch a lot. It should fetch a #1 prospect (like Moncada) or maybe a top prospect who's done well in a month of playing (like Swanson) or even two guys who will definitely be Top 25 guys, might both be Top 10 (like yes, Robles and Giolito) but Trea Turner is none of this. Trea Turner is not a prospect. He is not really a question mark. Trea Turner came in and performed at the highest level for basically half a season. He would have won the ROY for half a season if not for someone doing a tiny bit less than he did but for a full season, in Corey Seager. Oh yes, Seager was a legit MVP candidate. Turner is a guy you feel real strongly will be good next year and if he's good next year , he should be good for the next several. It's very likely he'll be better than just good. It's certainly possible he'll be great. All for dirt cheap prices. So the comparision is a good, potentially great position player for no money for 6 years vs a probably great pitcher for reasonable money for 3. There is no deal here.
Should the Nats trade for Sale? I said yes just a few weeks ago. It does mean potentially a rebuild rather than an ebb. A trading of Roark, Rendon, and maybe last year Sale for prospects going into 2019 with an eye on a getting back up by 2021. But is that so bad? I'll let you know something. This will come tumbling down at some point. No team wins forever. At least not with a "draft, develop, smart signings" plan. Eventually you run into just enough bad luck or bad judgment to drop you out of contention, and once out of contention - well the temptation to blow it up rather than set it back becomes real strong.
One more thing before we go, if the Nats trade - great. Makes the off-season that more exciting, sets up the likely end of the "Bryce era" as a true WS chase. If they don't though, don't be depressed. They should address their holes but they lived with them most of last year and won 95 games. They could easily do something similar in 2017. There are things that look down but things that look up too. They could do nothing and right now I'd still probably have them winning the East. This isn't a team teetering between success and failure in 2017. It's a team that should be a success in 2017 regardless of what they do in the offseason.