Two things steadily became clear about the Chicago White Sox's position on Chris Sale this winter: He was available but only at an incredibly high price.
On Tuesday, that price was paid in full.
Sale is changing his Sox. As Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports first reported, the All-Star left-hander went from the White Sox to the Boston Red Sox. Per Boston, Chicago got four prospects in exchange: infielder Yoan Moncada, right-handers Michael Kopech and Victor Diaz and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe.
It doesn't sound like much of a return when only their names are mentioned, huh? We should probably introduce some context into this conversation.
Let's start with Moncada, who is arguably the best young talent in the sport:
.@WhiteSox to get @MLBPipeline’s No. 1 prospect, @ymoncada19, in blockbuster change of Sox. https://t.co/cuju3CiyfZ Clubs haven't confirmed. https://t.co/0ufOji7G4x12/6/2016, 6:33:27 PM
Now, the catch should be that the White Sox will pay the remainder of the $63 million investment the Red Sox made in Moncada when they signed him as a mere 19-year-old in 2015.
But nope, according to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score in Chicago:
Bruce Levine @MLBBruceLevine
Wow-The Red Sox will pay the entire $31.2 million left on Yoan Moncada's original $63 million deal. White Sox get sweet deal on the money.12/6/2016, 7:47:20 PM
This means the White Sox got all of Moncada's upside and basically none of his risk.
It's not as if the Cuba native was struggling to live up to that investment, either. All he's done since signing is put up an .875 OPS with 94 stolen bases in 187 minor league games. And he already has some major league experience, having appeared in eight games with the Red Sox at the end of 2016.
Like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant before him, this makes Moncada The Next Big Thing™. In need of a course correction after a fourth straight losing season in 2016, the White Sox could not have asked for a better headliner for a Sale trade.
But a lesser deal almost happened. The word Monday, per Rosenthal, was that Sale had one foot in a Washington Nationals uniform for two prospects notably not named Yoan Moncada. Instead, general manager Rick Hahn was rewarded for his patience.
"You have to have that line before you get in the heat of the negotiation or an environment like this where there is a bit of a fever pitch to make moves, that you have objectively set that line you aren't going to go below," Hahn said Monday, via Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Otherwise, you are compromising too much in terms of the value."
Because it must be said, let's be out with it: Since the White Sox got only prospects from the Red Sox, they got a heck of a lot more upside than certainty.
And even by top-prospect standards, Moncada is more uncertain than most. Despite his position atop assorted prospect rankings, J.J. Cooper of Baseball America noted there was some pushback at play:
JJ Cooper @jjcoop36
Case can be made for Moncada as top prospect in baseball, but that's in no way consensus. Much more accurate to say Top 5 prospect.12/6/2016, 6:31:35 PM
There's little question Moncada has the raw talent befitting a No. 1 prospect. He's a switch-hitter who not only has plus-plus speed but also plus-power potential built into his 6'2", 205-pound frame.
Thus, MLB.com's glowing endorsement:
Few middle infielders can match Moncada's huge offensive ceiling, which earns him comparisons to Robinson Cano with more speed. He's a switch-hitter with outstanding bat speed who makes consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate. Moncada has added some loft to his swing in 2016 and has the potential for 20-25 home runs per season.
Or maybe you'd prefer what one scout told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports in September 2015: "He's the closest thing to [Mike] Trout I've seen."
However, how well Moncada's talent will translate to the majors is a question that only got amplified by his first taste of The Show in 2016.
He logged only 20 plate appearances in eight games, but Moncada registered three times as many strikeouts (12) as hits (four). He also failed to impress on defense at third base and on the basepaths, where one gaffe in particular drew the ire of Boston manager John Farrell.
As Bernie Pleskoff covered at FanRag Sports, Moncada's strikeouts and defensive issues loom as legit question marks. As talented as he is, he can only be so good if he struggles to put the ball in play at the plate and doesn't have a true home in the field.
But all handwringing aside, there's a major bright side here. Moncada is just 21 years old, and he played only two seasons in the Cuban National Series before coming to the United States. Whatever bad habits he has now shouldn't be so ingrained they can't be fixed.
To boot, Tuesday's trade signaled the White Sox are in no hurry.
Oh, sure. They could hold on to Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and other notables who have also popped up in trade rumors this winter, according to Buster Olney of ESPN (via MLB Trade Rumors). But if their goal were to try to win in the immediate future, Sale would still be with them.
Instead, the fallout of the Sale trade should involve the opening of the White Sox's floodgates. More trades will bring even more young talent for the core of a future winner, as Hahn told reporters Monday, via The Athletic:
I think what we're looking to do is put ourselves in a position for extended success. And the means for us to do that is by acquiring as much impact controllable talent as we can over an extended period and continuing the efforts to build ourselves up internationally and through the draft and adding to that potentially via trade.
The addition of not only Moncada but also the other three players garnered in the Sale trade was a hell of a start to this process.
Kopech has control issues to sort out, but he's already famous for uncorking a 105 mph fastball and ranks as MLB.com's No. 30 prospect. Basabe is a power-speed player who landed as Chicago's No. 7 prospect. Diaz is another power arm who checked in at No. 29.
This haul was a proverbial shot in the arm for a White Sox farm system that Baseball America ranked No. 23 going into the 2016 season. There may not be any guarantees that the club's wildest dreams will come true, but its future is in a much better place today than it was yesterday.
Or in other words: worth waiting for.