There can be no regretting the trade that sent Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada to the White Sox for Chris Sale in 2016, not even after watching both players take leading roles in Chicago sweeping Sunday’s doubleheader at Fenway Park from the suddenly stumbling Red Sox.
Moncada was 2 for 5 with a walk and an RBI and played all 14 innings at third base. He started two important double plays in Game 1.
Kopech started Game 2 and fired three perfect innings before coming out in the fourth.
Sale, who is on the injured list, could only watch from the dugout bench.
But the lefthander has already proved his worth. Sale was 29-12 with a 2.56 earned run average from 2017-18 with 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His presence helped turn the Red Sox from second-tier contenders to World Series champions.
Sale was determined to add a championship to all his individual accolades and his drive helped fuel that team.
Sale’s merciless ninth inning in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers — striking out Justin Turner, Kiké Hernández and public enemy No. 1 Manny Machado — was a perfect coda to a dominant season.
Maybe Kopech will command the spotlight like that someday. For now he’s a 24-year-old being used in relief who got a spot start, his first since 2018.
Kopech wants to be in the rotation and his performance Sunday was a step in that direction. The tall righthander retired the first nine batters in order on only 33 pitches with strikeouts of Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers, Marwin Gonzalez, and Hunter Renfroe mixed in.
Verdugo, a disciplined hitter, was diced up in four pitches in the first inning. The last was a 97 m.p.h. fastball Kopech located on the inside corner of the strike zone that Verdugo swung through.
Kopech didn’t fare as well the second time around as Hernández walked and Verdugo singled sharply to center.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa was quick to get Kopech out of the game before it got worse. His longest outing previously this season was 2⅓ innings.
“Good fastball, good breaking ball. On the mound he was in control,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “His stuff is good stuff and he knows how to use it . . . he’s a good one.”
La Russa skillfully used four relievers to finish the game off. It was the third loss in four games for the Red Sox.
If Kopech can stay healthy and focused, he could take a rotation spot later this season or next. Had he not opted out of last season because of the pandemic, Kopech could have been there already.
Or maybe his future will be in the bullpen. That’s still to be decided.
Moncada, who turns 26 in May, was supposed to be the Cuban Mike Trout when the Red Sox signed him in 2015 at a cost of $63 million, which counts the $31.5 million penalty they had to pay MLB for exceeding limits on international signings.
But Moncada has so far proved to be pretty good, not great. He’s a career .258 hitter with a .776 OPS who was moved off second base in 2019 and now plays third.
The two other prospects in the deal — righthander Victor Diaz and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe — are no longer with the White Sox. Diaz is out of baseball and Basabe is a bench player for the Giants.
Former Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made a good deal because it led to a championship and those are precious. The window was open for the Red Sox and Sale helped lead them through it.
The mistake the Red Sox made was signing Sale to a five-year, $145 million extension before the 2019 season.
With Sale still a year away from free agency, the Red Sox went all-in with him instead of waiting to assess his health after another season.
Sale broke down in 2019, his maximum-effort delivery finally causing elbow problems and eventually Tommy John surgery. Sale has yet to throw off a mound as he goes through the rehabilitation process.
The Red Sox have been circumspect with details about Sale, but the expectation is he will return this season.
But even with Sale recovering from surgery, the trade was a winner even if the Red Sox weren’t Sunday.