NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The reaction from at least a couple of Rays people to news that the AL East rival Red Sox had acquired ace Chris Sale from the White Sox was succinct — one word basically, that we can't print here.
Obviously the addition of the Lakeland-born laser-throwing left-hander is going to make the Red Sox even more impressive, is evidence of their financial and overall commitment to winning it all, is yet another example of how tough life is in the AL East, especially for the junior partner Rays.
"They've acquired an excellent pitcher, a tremendous pitcher that on one hand is going to make their team better," Rays general manager Erik Neander said in less colorful terms. "On the other hand I think we're going to look forward to competing against."
Oh, they'll have plenty to look forward to, with the potential of matching up six times a year with the imposing Red Sox trio of Sale, ex-mate David Price and — unless Kate Upton has gotten the vote changed — 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello.
But the Sale deal actually could help the Rays.
With Sale now off the market, teams such as the Braves and Astros and maybe the Nationals — runners-up to the Red Sox for Sale — who are seeking a frontline starter may be more motivated to meet the Rays' understandably high price for Chris Archer.
Though Sale is more accomplished, and actually younger (27-28), Archer comes with a better contract (five years of control for $38.5 million vs. three years at $39.5 million) and perhaps a longer trajectory as Sale is considered by some a potential injury risk.
Could Archer bring a similar return to the two elite prospects, infielder Yoan Moncada and right-hander Michael Kopech, and two others (Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz), that Sale commanded? Close? More?
"It's certainly a reference point," Neander said, without saying much else. "You're talking about a top-end talent with three years of control. The price to get those guys is not cheap."
In talks thus far, the Rays have found teams more interested in their other starters, specifically Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly, who come with a lower price tag since they have less control. Realistically, they are probably whom the Rays prefer to trade rather than Jake Odorizzi or Archer — Smyly more so given his projected $7 million salary, Cobb less so given the potential that he increases his value with a good first half in his final season before free agency. Erasmo Ramirez has also been the subject of conversations.
So in theory, the Sale deal could spark the overall starters market, spurring teams to get more aggressive in filling their needs, especially compared to a free agent market where the top remaining choices look to be Jason Hammel and Ivan Nova.
You could even make the case that it could help the Rays long-term to not have to deal with the multi-talented Moncada or Kopech as Red Sox.
But it's hard, initially, to not think it hurts more. Besides the obvious of seeing Sale six times a season, the deal could crowd the trade market, putting two more quality starters on the market. In total rebuild mode, the White Sox likely will look to move talented lefty Jose Quintana. And the Red Sox, with a surplus, can now deal Drew Pomeranz.
One way or another, the judgment will be in the Rays' hands.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.