NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Rick Hahn took the main media stage at baseball's winter meetings Tuesday and called the strategy that brought about the biggest trade of his career as White Sox general manager "bittersweet."
The bitter: Even with five-time All-Star and perennial Cy Young award contender Chris Sale at the front of their rotation, the Sox couldn't put an end to a streak of eight straight seasons without making the playoffs. The stretch of futility became so daunting the Sox decided their best way out of it was to trade the ace left-hander to the Red Sox to embark on a massive rebuilding project on the South Side.
The sweet: One of the biggest trade pieces in recent Sox history requires a great return, and the Sox feel like they got it with a four-player package that includes baseball's No. 1 overall prospect, infielder Yoan Moncada.
The Red Sox also gave up hard-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and right-hander Victor Diaz to complete a blockbuster deal that is likely to be just the beginning for the White Sox.
The Sox already have felt out a starting pitching market where left-hander Jose Quintana could be a consolation prize. And the names of outfielder Adam Eaton, first baseman Jose Abreu and third baseman Todd Frazier are popping up in the rumor mill.
"Given where we were as an organization entering this offseason, we knew we were going to have to make some painful decisions," Hahn said. "But if we had the opportunity to acquire some high-impact talent that would be around for a number of years, it was time to start that process. … So today was the first step in what very likely will be an extended process."
Moncada, 21, is the headliner of the Sox's first deal, a speedy switch-hitter out of Cuba whose offensive upside has earned him comparisons to Robinson Cano.
In his second minor-league season after the Red Sox gave him a $31.5 million signing bonus, Moncada hit .294 with 31 doubles, six triples, 15 home runs, 45 stolen bases and a .918 OPS at the high Class A and Double-A levels. He received a major-league call-up to the Red Sox in September and played in eight games, hitting .211 with a double, an RBI and 12 strikeouts.
He can play second and third base, but Hahn said the Sox see him at second for now. However, that might be at the Triple-A level initially in 2017 because Hahn said he still requires development.
Moncada's promise was not one the Red Sox were willing to give up easily, but for Sale they made an exception.
"The ability to get a Chris Sale doesn't come along that often," Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski said. "This is one of the best pitchers in baseball, proven. We're trying to win. There will come a day when Moncada is putting in his 15-year career that we will be saying, 'The Red Sox, geez, I can't believe we traded that guy.'
"(Moncada) is a great player, and if he's not a tremendous player, I will be very surprised. But, again, you have to give to get."
The White Sox also hope the return has some depth, moving next to Kopech, the 33rd overall pick in the 2014 draft. His development has been slowed by off-the-field issues, including a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs in 2015 and a broken hand from a fight in 2016. But the Sox think he projects as well as any starting pitcher in the minors.
Hahn said he also could be on a quick path to the majors, while Basabe and Diaz have more work to do.
The Sox picked the Red Sox package after "extensive debate" over Sale's suitors, Hahn said. He called Dombrowski on Friday to initiate this round of talks, and he picked Tuesday morning from two offers. Hahn didn't reveal the runner-up, but the Sox reportedly were in advanced talks Monday night with the Nationals.
"This is an effort to move more toward being able to sustain ourselves at that higher echelon," Hahn said. "There may well be some pain along the way. … But ultimately we think whatever sacrifice we make for the short-term at the big-league level is going to pay off for an extended period (in the future) because the last place we want to be is caught in between."
To be certain, the Sox will miss Sale in the in-between.
The No. 13 overall draft pick in 2010, Sale, 27, finishes his career with the Sox 74-50 with a 3.00 ERA, 14 complete games, two shutouts and 1,244 strikeouts in seven seasons with the club. He is the team single-season record-holder with 274 strikeouts, set in 2015.
He went 17-10 with a 3.34 ERA over a career-high 226 2/3 innings last season, which was also a tumultuous one in the clubhouse.
In spring training, he defiantly spoke out about Sox executive vice president Ken Williams after veteran Adam LaRoche retired because of a disagreement about his son's clubhouse time. In July, he cut up some of his and his teammates' throwback jerseys because he was upset about being asked to pitch in a uniform he found uncomfortable and called out then-manager Robin Ventura for not standing up for his players.
The Sox, however, acknowledged that such fire was also what made him an outstanding competitor on the mound, and Hahn said it didn't affect trade talks. The Red Sox did their due diligence by speaking about Sale with his former teammates, who vouched for him.
Hahn spoke to Sale on the phone Tuesday and said he was excited about a chance to pitch for a contender.
"He will be great," Hahn said. "He has the front-end, No. 1-ace mentality, which is going to play well in any market, and I think he's going to be invigorated by the chance to play meaningful games in October."
The time frame on that goal for the White Sox was just pushed back significantly.