What the White Sox are going to do with Chris Sale--their best pitching prospect in
recent memory--has been an ongoing mystery this off-season. The best value for Sale is to start, as everyone, who is anyone, agrees on. However, everyone at 35th & Wentworth was rightly blown away with the work Chris did in the bullpen last season, and the temptation to enroll his services in the later innings has loomed large. Especially because as it stands, the bullpen is one elite arm short of being unquestionably reliable, one trumpet short of a full brass section, one leg short of being a dog that can actually run fast.
With Jake Peavy still tinkering around with his newly re-attached lat muscle, he's set to be out anywhere from mid-June (ZiPs projection/Jon Heyman's off the cuff tweet), end of April (team estimates), to no lapse at all (what Jake Peavy has either declared, estimated, or scrawled on a U.S. Cellular bathroom door).
Until--if ever--Peavy returns to full form, there are starts to be had by someone...albeit not a lot of them early on with the way the schedule shakes out. Because he's quite noticeably more qualified than Lucas Harrell, it was presumed that Chris Sale would fill these spots. Management has gone so far to tell Chris to prepare himself to start just in case, on the notion that it will be easier to revert back to reliever-mode when the time calls for it rather than vice versa.
Don Cooper has come out on the record against Sale being asked to bounce back and forth from the rotation to the pen, and for the first time this off-season, Kenny Williams has made a move that indicated his feelings on the matter. MLB Trade Rumors, as well as even the White Sox official website at this point have reported that Williams and free agent starter Freddy Garcia have spoken with flirtatious intentions. It didn't really go anywhere....and Freddy followed it up by saying he just wanted to play for the Yankees already.
"My preference is to be with the New York Yankees, and it's not
unreasonable to have that in mind, because I've demonstrated that I can
be useful," Garcia said. "A team like New York would be ideal for my
age, [as would ] playing in a successful, media-heavy, demanding
division. Without doubt it would be an inspiration."
There may have also been something else about the weight of a soul taking miles off of his fastball, but let's not speculate. Frankly, even if the richest team in baseball wasn't curiously desperate for starting arms, coming in to be the spot starter and possibly be relegated to the bullpen and Triple-A may not have appealed to Sweaty Freddy. 35 year-olds (OR WHATEVER HIS AGE ACTUALLY IS) as good as Garcia usually don't have to slum it like that.
While Garcia may have been the only starter the Sox were willing to kick the tires of due to his lengthy history with the team, it still represents the team pursuing alternatives to putting Chris Sale in the rotation at all in 2011...and not even very good ones. Paying Garcia to be an insurance starter would be quite the luxury, but apparently the Sox are at least pondering paying for it to spare themselves from a bullpen without two power lefties at the back of it.
Naturally the team is keeping Sale prepared to start because it can't hurt, and there still is no better option in the roster, but his ultimate role on the team in 2011 appears to be almost certainly based in the pen now. All hopes of using Sale as the insurance 6th starter all year, or flipping an extra starter for help elsewhere (this team ain't perfect) are pretty much dashed.
While the studious thing to do would be to fret about getting reliever value out of a legit starter, and even pontificate on the possible effects on Sale's development, take heart in that this is going to be a pretty sweet bullpen.