This isn't the first super rotation Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has built. In 2014, while with the Tigers, he entered the season with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello before trading for David Price at the trade deadline. Ultimately that team got swept in the ALDS by Baltimore. Another example of a super rotation coming up short is the 2011 Phillies. That rotation featured Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt yet the team lost to the Cardinals in the NLDS. This means that building a dominant pitching staff doesn't guarantee a championship. It doesn't even guarantee a trip to the World Series. But if you're the Red Sox now and you just added Chris Sale to Price and Porcello, and your number three starter just won the AL Cy Young, that's a good place to start.
Let's start with what Boston gave up to acquire Sale. The headliner is obviously Yoan Moncada, Baseball America's 2016 minor league player of the year. The 21-year-old infielder is considered one of, if not the best, prospects in all of baseball. Red Sox fans will remember his dissapointing MLB debut, where in 20 plate appearances he struck out 12 times. However, it's worth noting that this was a small sample size, and that many baseball executives thought he may have been rushed from AA to the majors. In 106 games between A and AA this year Moncada hit .294/.407/.511 to go along with 15 homers and 45 steals. He's got an incredibly bright future and can now slide back into his natural position at second base since he is no longer being blocked by Dustin Pedroia. The three remaining prospects Boston sent are too far off to be worth discussing right now, but they are good. The Red Sox gave up a kings ransom in this trade. There's no denying that. But in return they got one of the five best starting pitchers in baseball.
Chris Sale has been a full time starter for five years now. He has never finished lower than sixth in the American League Cy Young voting. In the past four years he has led the AL in strikeouts once, K/9 twice, complete games twice, and ERA+ once. What makes Sale so good is his ability to strike batters out without issuing free passes. If he were to retire today he would finish with the second best strikeout to walk ratio of all time. He is an ace in every sense of the word, including his mentality, his leadership, and his ability to pitch deep into games.
Now that's not to say Sale doesn't come without risk. He has a funky, violent delivery, which early on in his career scouts thought would lead to elbow trouble. It hasn't yet but it's something to monitor. Perhaps more concerning, though, is the fact that his fastball velocity dipped from 95.6 mph in 2015 to 93.6 mph last year. He also saw his K/9 fall from 11.8 to 9.3. Some of this may have been due to pitching to contact to go deeper into games, but it's noteworthy. Additionally a lot is being made of the fact that he fixes the Red Sox postseason pitching woes but he has never thrown an inning in the playoffs. He certainly looks to have the mentality for it, but until we actually see him perform we can't expect him to do what Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester have done for past championship teams in Boston.
Many of these worries can be mitigated when looking at Sale's contract. Currently he has three years and $39.5 million left on his deal, for an average of roughly a little over $13 million. Compare this to aces around league and it's an absolute bargain. Price is making $30 million in 2017. Zack Greinke $31 million. Clayton keeshaw $33 million. Hell Sale is the fourth most expensive starter on his own staff when you realize Clay Buchholz is making $13.5 million this upcoming season. Ultimately Sale's contract, age, and production make him one of baseball's most valuable assets.
The Red Sox have the trio of Sale, Price, and Porcello locked in for at least the next two years (Price can opt out of his six remaining years after 2018). When you add that to the young core of bats they have this move isn't as "win now" as it initially appears. Yes Dombrowski has absolutely gutted the farm system since coming on board. He has sent hauls of prospects for Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, and now Sale. Perhaps they will be hurting a bit four to five years from now if Moncada turns into a perennial all star for the White Sox. But right now they have a two to three year window where a championship must be expected.