The time is right; the market for starting pitching stinks.
Matt Garza is an oft-injured rental. Yovani Gallardo has a 4.85 ERA. Kyle Lohse is 35, Bud Norris has never pitched for a contender, and Joe Saunders is, well, Joe Saunders.
David Price isn’t out there. Cliff Lee isn’t out there. No ace is out there. Some smart team is going to exploit the shortfall by putting a top-of-the-rotation starter in play.
The White Sox should be that team.
They’re already selling, entertaining offers on virtually all of their players, according to major league sources. Their interest in trading Sale, though, is unclear.
Some in baseball believe Sale can be had. But one general manager who is looking for starting pitching says that he has had numerous conversations with White Sox GM Rick Hahn, and Hahn never once has mentioned Sale.
Which could mean nothing.
If I’m Hahn, I’m not shopping Sale to all 29 other clubs. No, I’m doing this quietly, targeting only a select few contenders with rich farm systems — say, Texas, Boston, Arizona and St. Louis.
And, if I can’t get a monster return — the type of haul that the Rangers received for Mark Teixeira at the 2007 non-waiver deadline (Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia) — then I’m not moving Sale at all.
I know, I know: Teams rarely part with prospects in such bunches anymore. OK, fine. But you’re not getting Sale for a low-ceiling 25-year-old third baseman at Triple A and two fresh-faced pitchers in A ball.
Sale is only 24. Even better, he’s in the first year of a club-friendly, five-year, $32.5 million contract that includes club options of $12.5 million for 2018 and and $13.5 million for ’19, at which point he will be all of 30.
Now don’t get me wrong: Sale is not a flawless trade chip. Some rival scouts and executives long have identified him as a breakdown candidate, citing his throwing motion and skinny frame.
Just last season, when Ken Williams was GM, the White Sox removed Sale from their rotation in May and named him their closer because he was dealing with a tender left elbow. Sale pleaded his case to Williams, returned to the rotation eight days later and became an All-Star.
This season, Sale did not pitch between May 17 and June 2 due to posterior shoulder soreness, though he never went on the DL. He since has recovered nicely, producing a 3.10 ERA in seven starts, striking out 62 and walking only 10 in 49 1/3 innings.
Now, it’s true that White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper and head athletic trainer Herm Schneider are perhaps the game’s best combination at keeping pitchers healthy. But why can’t another club follow the White Sox’s blueprint for Sale, back him off when necessary, and settle for 25 to 30 brilliant starts per season?
Sale’s elite performance at a bargain price — $3.5 million next season, $6 million in 2015 and $9.15 million in ’16, for starters — would make such a gamble worthwhile.
A White Sox fan might argue: Hey, I want Sale on my team for exactly those reasons. Fair enough. But the flaw in that argument is the White Sox badly need to reload.
Outfielder Alex Rios should bring back a nice package. The White Sox possibly could land lesser prospects for right-hander Jake Peavy and first baseman Paul Konerko if they get healthy. Second baseman Gordon Beckham, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and relievers such as lefty Matt Thornton, righty Matt Lindstrom and closer Addison Reed figure to draw interest as well.
But why not go all the way with this?
The White Sox entered Wednesday in last place in the AL Central, 13 games out. Their farm system ranks 29th out of 30 in the majors, according to Baseball America. Their home attendance is in decline for the seventh straight season — from 36,511 in 2006, the year after they won the World Series, to 22,499 in ’13.
The current team is unwatchable. The Tigers are the beast of the division, while the Indians, Royals and Twins all appear better positioned than the White Sox for the future. And it’s not as if the Cubs are going to embarrass the Sox and win a World Series anytime soon, not when they’re going through a dramatic reconstruction themselves.
I know this is Hahn’s first year as GM. I know the White Sox under Williams were a go-for-it franchise that never wanted to concede. Well, times have changed. And dramatic action is necessary.
If I’m Hahn, I’m telling the Diamondbacks to start their package with prized Double-A right-hander Archie Bradley. I’m telling the Cardinals that I want one of their premium right-handers at Triple A, Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez.
I’m telling the Rangers that infielder Jurickson Profar, left-hander Martin Perez and others had better not be off-limits. And I’m telling the Red Sox if they want Sale, they will need to talk about infielder Xander Bogaerts and right-hander Allen Webster.
What’s the worst that can happen, that they’ll all say no?