The Sox announced an extension today with Chris Sale for the next five years at $32.5 million, with two club options that could make it a seven year, $60 million deal.
My reaction? Color Me Impressed, Rick Hahn.
The Sox have bought out all three arbitration years, plus one year of free agency for $32 million. And then have the option to buy out two more years of free agency for about $13 million per.
So really this is a deal to lock Sale in before he can file for arbitration (his first of three cracks would be next winter). Seeing how good Sale was at age 23, this was probably a good idea. Sale gave the Sox a 5 fWAR (5.7 bWAR) season last year, and while he somewhat out pitched his numbers, that’s still really impressive for a 23 year old as the names around him are all guys SportsCenter talks about a lot. As Fangraphs pointed out earlier today before this deal was announced, five years, $30 million is a good starting point considering what guys like Lester, Bucholtz, Cahill and Gallardo all got. Personally, I think five years, $32 million in 2013 for Sale is a good to great deal for the Sox. None of those guys above came anywhere close to Sale in their age 23 season. And if Sale can be a 4 WAR pitcher, let alone a 5 WAR again, then the Sox really got in front of a good deal.
What I like most about the deal for the Sox, is the cost certainty. Five years of Sale for $32 million is really, really nice, and probably smart. It’s not crazy to think that if Sale pitched 2012 well in 2013, the Sox could be looking at an arbitration hearing that both sides were arguing in the teens, and while that’s not Lincecum money, it’s not far off either.
Going back to those other five year, around $30 million deals, Lester and Gallardo had awesome age 24 seasons. And that’s what we don’t know about Sale moving forward: can he keep this up, as a starter, until 2017? Beyond? For as good as the Lester and Gallardo contracts have been, Bucholtz has never been worth the contract he was given. Sale could easily fall into the Bucholtz camp (that said, Bucholtz never pitched like Sale did in ‘12). After all, Sale’s only been a starter in professional baseball for a single season, and as you’ll see below, it was kind of a wild season. Clearly the White Sox think Sale can be almost as good over the next few years. And considering that three or four years ago, the going rate for someone around Sale’s talent and production was five years, $30 million; the Sox got a deal that’s completely in line with those, and actually cheaper once you consider inflation. Again, Color Me Impressed, Rick Hahn.
The question with Sale is, and will continue to be, health. So far with the Sox, he hasn’t had any major trouble. But there has been a number of weird occurrences, pretty much all of them last year which saw the Sox oddly move to the bullpen in early May, then moved him back to the rotation almost right away, and then there was that start against the Royals which lead Hawk to say something like, “If you want to see courage, Chris Sale has courage today, since he hasn’t hit 90 miles an hour all game, but he is battling. This is what White Sox baseball is all about! Ted Williams once told me that...”, so the Sox game him a few extra days off in July and August. From there on out, Sale’s velocity was below what it was earlier in the year, but he was still fairly effective. And everyone and their mother thinks that Sale is an arm injury waiting to happen considering his arm action and frame (or lack thereof).
True, Sale could flame out like Scott Kazmir (5.3 fWAR in his age 23 season). Or last year could have been a career year, like another White Sox lefty in the rotation whose best season was his age 23 season. But Sale isn't Danks, as Sale strikes out more guys and had worse home run luck than Danks in '08.
But we have to remember that the Sox probably have the best training staff in the majors. In fact, they’re by far the best if you use “not going on the DL” as a guide as to who is good at keeping players healthy. And that has to be some of the thinking here for the Sox, we’ve got Herm, no one else does, he brought back Peavy and all pitchers are freaks of nature that can break down at any moment anyway.
So I like the deal. I like it alot. It’s a risk, and I can understand if people aren’t crazy excited about it. Scott Kazmir's career is staring back at all of us. But it’s a risk you take seeing that it’s not a crazy amount of money and the Sox are betting that Herm can not only keep Sale healthy, but that Coop can continue to work his magic. Sale already doesn’t walk many batters, and if he improves even a little bit there while learning to cut down on home runs just a little bit... well, this deal will be a steal for the Sox and those two club option years will look amazing. But even if Sale is “only” a 3 WAR pitcher on average from here until 2017, this isn’t a bad deal and won’t break the bank for the Sox moving forward.