The White Sox haven't been contenders for a while, but in the next day or so, they will be officially, mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. That means they still haven't made the postseason since 2008, which was their only trip since the 2005 World Series championship.
The last five of those non-playoff years have come with an elite-level ace fronting the rotation through the middle of his prime. Only once (2012) did the White Sox even post a winning record behind the exploits of Chris Sale.
It's unfortunate that they are in this position, but the White Sox have aggressively pursued roster upgrades in each of the past two seasons only to remain mediocre (or worse, really). It's just not happening here.
As such, the White Sox should simply trade Chris Sale this coming offseason. Let's run down the four strongest reasons:
1. The free-agent starting pitching market is barren
Teams wishing to land an ace this coming offseason won't be able to go the free-agency route. The best free agents among starting pitchers will be the likes of Jeremy Hellickson, Doug Fister, Andrew Cashner, Brett Anderson, CC Sabathia et al. Rich Hill is great right now, but he's 37. Scott Kazmir could opt out of his deal, while it's always possible that someone like Jason Hammel has his club option declined.
Yeah, it's pretty bad. So the hot and juicy offseason pitching rumors will involve trades. Maybe Jose Fernandez is put on the block as rumored. Sale would garner tons of interest. Speaking of which ...
2. Awesome and relatively cheap, Sale's value is sky high
In five seasons as a starter, Sale has a per-season average of 200 innings, 223 strikeouts, a 2.97 ERA, 136 ERA+ and 1.06 WHIP. Assuming he finishes better than sixth this season in Cy Young voting -- and he will -- sixth (2012) would be his worst finish in AL Cy Young voting.
We've seen what pitchers of this caliber make in free agency. More than $20 million per year nowadays. Sale will make $12 million next season with club options for 2018 ($12.5M) and 2019 ($13.5M).
That's three prime years with an amazingly cheap salary for a prime pitcher like Sale. Then he's up for free agency after his age-30 season. The acquiring team in any trade might not want to tread into his 30s with him, or they might want to re-sign him.
3. He's durable, so far ...
This is two-fold. First off, there's no reason for a team looking to acquire Sale to worry about his specific injury history. He has had some DL stints, sure, but has never made fewer than 26 starts in a season since he joined the MLB rotation. He has gotten stronger as seasons have gone along at times, too.
Of course, we know how easily pitchers fall injured on a dime these days. That Sale hasn't been hurt yet despite heavy workloads, high velocity and his spindly frame seems like an upset. Just looking at him and seeing how skinny he is (6-feet-6, 180 pounds), doesn't it seem like his arm could give out at any moment? It's total guesswork, but I'm shocked his hasn't had arm issues yet.
Then there's his velocity drop this season. Check out the chart via the excellent brooksbaseball.net:
There was a similar drop toward the end of 2012, but that was his first season as a starter. This has been his lowest velocity season overall. Does that mean he's hurt? Of course not. Pitchers lose velocity as they age, especially when logging so many innings. It's just another thing to consider here that his arm might be getting into the danger zone.
Put it this way: What if Sale tears his UCL next season? Wouldn't the White Sox have been better off getting a haul of prospects by striking while the iron was hot?
4. He has seemed a bit disgruntled this season
Remember back in spring training when Sale was one of the mouthpieces from the clubhouse to voice strong, public displeasure at management over the Drake/Adam LaRoche situation? How about when he cut up a bunch of uniforms that he didn't want to wear? Those don't seem like things that happen from a player who is in love with his bosses.
It should also be pointed out that these aren't the types of indiscretions that lower a player's trade value. Any team looking to acquire Sale would be thinking that those are isolated incidents. And they probably are, specific to those circumstances.
So dealing Sale would land a ridiculous package of prospects in return while also freeing him from a front office with which he hasn't seen eye to eye. A contending team grabs Sale to front its rotation, Sale is happy because he gets to play for a contender while the White Sox could start a rebuild that probably needs to happen sooner rather than later -- especially with Jose Abreu and Jose Quintana still rostered.