Sale moving to bullpen, will close

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Sale moving to bullpen, will close

In a move that has serious short and long-term repercussions, Chris Sale is no longer a starter.

According to MLB.com's Scott Merkin, Sale experienced some tenderness in his elbow and in an effort to keep him healthy, the White Sox are moving him to the bullpen, where he will close. Dylan Axelrod will start Sunday's contest against the Tigers, while Hector Santiago will move to middle relief.

On Wednesday, Sale appeared on Chicago Tribune Live and seemed pleased with his development as a starter (see his full comments in the video to the right). So that's why Friday's announcement is so jarring.

Short-term, this is both good and bad news for the White Sox. The good news is that the Sox probably won't have to worry much about the ninth inning, which has been shaky with Santiago pitching as the closer this season. Sale has been dynamite as a reliever, posting a 2.58 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 37 walks in 94 13 innings between 2010 and 2011.

But losing Sale as a starter may outweigh gaining him as a closer. Assuming Sale was able to stay healthy as a starter, he had all the makings of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. In 32 innings over five starts this season, Sale had a 2.81 ERA with 29 strikeouts and eight walks. But his velocity saw a drop in his last outing, which may have precipitated this move, along with his reported tightnesssoreness.

There's little chance Sale will provide more value to the White Sox as a closer than as a starter (again, assuming Sale could've stayed healthy as a starter). Case in point: through five starts this season, Fangraphs had Sale worth about 1 win above replacement -- only half a win less than he earned in 58 relief appearances with the White Sox in 2011.

Simply put, Sale can't have as great an impact on the White Sox if he's only pitching one inning at a time. Of course, this move was made for reasons beyond value, and Sale can't contribute anything if he winds up on the disabled list. So if moving him to the bullpen ultimately is a way to keep him healthy, then it's the right call.

For Axelrod, this is a huge break. He has a chance to earn a spot in a big-league starting rotation for the first time in his career, and if he's able to pitch half as good as he did in Charlotte, he'll earn it.

Four Triple-A starts are hardly reliable, but at least they were four very good ones. Axelrod posted a 1.08 ERA with 26 strikeouts and four walks in 25 innings for the Knights before he was called up when Jesse Crain went down with an injury in late April.

With Axelrod in the rotation, the Sox will have a difficult roster decision on their hands when Crain returns. Nate Jones would be the most likely candidate to be shipped off to the minors, although he has a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings. The Sox will probably opt to keep Zach Stewart in the bullpen given his long-relief abilities.

Sale's move to the bullpen gives the Sox an excess of left-handed relievers, though, so perhaps the other option is to send Santiago down or, just speculating, part ways with Will Ohman, who has a 6.23 ERA in 8 23 innings this season.

But whatever move the Sox make in that regard will be minor compared to Sale's move back to the bullpen. The door may not be shut on Sale starting at some point in his career, but it appears to be open by just a crack.

Sale was drafted No. 13 overall to be a starter, no matter how impressive he looked pitching in relief. Many evaluations pegged Sale as a future reliever, though, and right now, it looks like that'll be his role.

White Sox announcer Jason Benetti cracks Crain's 40 under 40

White Sox announcer Jason Benetti cracks Crain's 40 under 40

Crain's Chicago Business released its latest 40 under 40 project and White Sox announcer Jason Benetti made this year's list.

The 33-year-old just finished his first season with the White Sox as play-by-play announcer, working the home games at U.S. Cellular Field (before it was renamed Guaranteed Rate Field last month) alongside Steve Stone as longtime broadcaster Hawk Harrelson saw his workload reduced to mostly road games.

Benetti quickly became a fan favorite among Chicagoans on CSN and other networks in 2016 and his cerebral palsy became more of a backstory, with his work alongside Stone and his affable sense of humor taking center stage instead.

Among other topics, Benetti discussed how he approaches his job of broadcasting for the team he grew up rooting for:

Law school taught me that there are always two sides of the argument. I see it from the Sox prism, but I can’t believe in my heart of hearts that, if the Sox lose, the world’s over anymore. That first game, I was like, “All right, it’s just a game.” And then Avi Garcia hits a homer late in the game against the Indians and I call it like I would call it with a little more. And as the ball cleared the fence, when it was rolling around, I got a slight tear in my eye. And I was like, “What’s that?”

Check out the entire interview with Benetti and the full list at ChicagoBusiness.com.

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

White Sox reportedly asking for No. 1 prospect plus more in trade return for Chris Sale

The White Sox could be open for business when the Winter Meetings begin on Sunday in Maryland, with ace left-hander Chris Sale likely to draw the most interest at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. 

The price for the five-time All-Star, of course, will be steep. ESPN’s Jayson Stark offered this as to just how steep it’ll be: To acquire Sale, a team will have to part with its No. 1 prospect plus at least two more players. 

The starting point for the White Sox, according to Stark, will be last offseason’s Shelby Miller trade in which the Arizona Diamondbacks sent former No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson to the Atlanta Braves to acquire the 26-year-old right-hander. 

Miller was coming off a strong season in 2015, in which he crossed the 200-inning threshold for the first time and posted a career best 3.02 ERA. But Miller hadn’t come close to establishing the success Sale has at the time of the trade, spending just three seasons in the starting rotations of the Braves and St. Louis Cardinals without eye-popping peripherals (he had a 4.54 FIP in 2014, for example). And the Braves still managed to swipe Swanson away from a Diamondbacks team that went all in for the 2016 season (and crashed to a 69-93 record with Miller having a 6.15 ERA). 

Only three pitchers — Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and David Price — have racked up more WAR than Sale (26.2) since the start of the 2012 season, and Sale is one of seven starters to have 1,000 or more strikeouts over the last five seasons, too. Durability hasn’t been an issue for Sale, either, as he’s tied for second in baseball with 14 complete games since 2012 (only behind Kershaw) and has thrown the 12th-most innings of any pitcher in the last five years, too. 

That’s the Cliff’s Notes version of why Sale will command such a high price. So that’s why, on MLB Network on Friday, Jon Heyman threw out the following names that could be discussed: Washington Nationals infielder/outfielder Trea Turner, Houston Astros infielder Alex Bregman, Boston Red Sox outfielders Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. and Red Sox infielder Yoan Moncada. 

Not only are those guys top prospects, but every one them outside of Moncada has had more than a cup of coffee in the major leagues. Whether or not the White Sox could pry one of those players, or someone of their caliber, away from a team in a Sale trade remains to be seen. 

The price may come down, as Stark reported, but the starting point in the Sale sweepstakes certainly appears to be high.