How close did the Red Sox come to trading Rafael Devers for Chris Sale? Let Dave Dombrowski explain

John Tomase
NBC Sports Boston

At last month's All-Star Game, White Sox batterymates James McCann and Lucas Giolito waxed poetic about the burgeoning greatness of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.

"His talent is off the charts," McCann said.

"He's already a star," Giolito added.

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You both realize he could've been your teammate, they were told.

"Really?" Giolito said.

"I had no idea," McCann said, "but he's a special, special player."

The Red Sox wouldn't have even considered dealing Devers when he was one of the best prospects in their system unless they were receiving a superstar in return, and it just so happens that one became available in December of 2016 when the White Sox decided to move ace Chris Sale.

With Devers erupting like Vesuvius, it's worth revisiting the biggest blockbuster of Dave Dombrowski's Red Sox tenure to answer a fascinating what-if: Just how close did he come to including Devers in that franchise-altering trade?

Short answer: not very.

"When they got into the Devers part of it, at that point, we were prepared to walk away," Dombrowski said this week.

The White Sox came to the Red Sox looking for one of two players to headline the deal: outfielder Andrew Benintendi or infielder Yoan Moncada. Baseball America had just named Benintendi the best prospect in the system and Moncada the second-best prospect in all of baseball. The Red Sox weren't going to surrender both future All-Stars.

With a perennial Cy Young candidate leaving in the deal, Chicago desired pitching in return, which made right-handed flamethrower Michael Kopech the next name on its list. The foundation of the deal thus became clear: Benintendi or Moncada, and Kopech.

"The reality is they either wanted Benintendi or Moncada as the No. 1 guy," Dombrowski said. "Now Devers' name came up after that, but it was clear that they wanted one or the other in order to start the conversation, and the next part of the conversation was Kopech."

The Red Sox liked both offensive prospects, but prioritized Benintendi because they needed him to start in left field. "We were trying to win," Dombrowski said.

With Moncada and Kopech established as centerpieces, talk turned to the prospects who'd round out the transaction. They couldn't just be filler, because Chicago was surrendering a five-time All-Star who had never finished lower than sixth in the Cy Young voting.

And so that's where Devers entered the picture. Ranked Boston's No. 3 prospect by Baseball America, the teenager had just smacked 11 homers as one of the youngest players in the High-A Carolina League. Two years younger than Benintendi and Moncada, who had already tasted the majors, Devers seemed much further away.

"The reports were very similar for all three of them," Dombrowski said. "We thought all three of them could be All-Stars. And they did think he'd play third base, but it might take a little bit of time. He just needed some additional work. But (player development) thought his ability translated. He's a better athlete than people thought he was when they looked at him. He moved well, he had some quickness attached to him with a good arm, and he could really, really hit."

At one point the White Sox pushed for Devers, Dombrowski said, and even intimated that they might explore other offers if they didn't get him.

"We were already giving up Moncada or Benintendi and Kopech," Dombrowski said. "We knew that they liked those other guys so much, and we kept weighing it in or our mind and kept saying, if you have one of those two guys and Kopech, we didn't think anyone could realistically match that deal. So we told them at that point we were not going to give up Devers. And then they came back to us with a couple of other names."

Those names ended up being outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, a power-speed threat with high strikeout numbers but upside whom BA ranked eighth in the system, and fireballing reliever Victor Diaz, a top-20 Red Sox prospect.

Devers stayed put and reached the big leagues eight months later, slamming 10 homers in just 58 games at age 20 -- including an opposite-field shot off a 103 mph fastball from Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman -- to help the Red Sox reach the playoffs. Benintendi hit 20 homers and drove in 90, while Sale went 17-8 and became just the second Red Sox pitcher to strike out 300 batters in a season. All three played roles in last year's World Series title.

Meanwhile, the White Sox like what they've seen from Moncada. The 24-year-old is hitting .301 with 20 homers and an .893 OPS while slashing his strikeout rate by nearly 20 percent. Kopech showed promise before undergoing Tommy John surgery that will sideline him until next season. Basabe has struggled, while Diaz hasn't pitched since 2017 because of shoulder woes.

"I don't know if it necessarily matters going forward what [Sale] does anymore when you are assessing that trade," White Sox GM Rick Hahn told MLB.com earlier this year. "They signed him to an extension, so that's different going forward than what they acquired him for. But during the period of control they acquired, he helped them win a World Series championship. He played a really big role.

"So that's a great win for them. Whenever our time comes in the next few years, if Moncada and Kopech and others we've acquired play an important role in us winning the World Series or two along the way, then we would have won as well. That's the best of both worlds."

That's just the way Dombrowski likes it.

"Maybe I'm different than others, but I've always believed if you're going to get talent, you have to give up talent," he said. "You're not getting a player like Chris Sale if you're not giving anybody up who can play. I'm glad it worked out for them, and it's worked out well for us."

It sure has, and not just because of the All-Star the Red Sox acquired, but the one they refused to give away.

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How close did the Red Sox come to trading Rafael Devers for Chris Sale? Let Dave Dombrowski explain originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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