MESA, Ariz. -- The White Sox believe they have a premium pitcher in Chris Sale and are fairly confident they can keep him healthy.
Although they must assume risk of injury with an extension -- one Sale agreed to Thursday -- the White Sox are more than happy because of the deal’s perceived value.
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Sale signed a five-year contract on Thursday that could keep him in a White Sox uniform through 2019 with a maximum value of $60 million.
The deal guarantees Sale $32.5 million and at the absolute least keeps him on the South Side through 2017, which would have been his first year of free agency.
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The hope is Sale, an All-Star and 17-game winner in his first season as a starter, blossoms into a potential Cy Young Award winner like San Francisco Giants starter Tim Lincecum.
If such a metamorphosis takes place, the White Sox think they have a significant bargain compared with the two two-year deals Lincecum received. In his final four years under team control, Lincecum, who preferred two-year deals to a long-term extension and is a free agent in 2014, earned $63.5 million from San Francisco.
“Are you going to stand on the sidelines and go year-to-year, which insulates you against that injury risk, or are you going to be a little more aggressive and allows you the possibility of controlling premium guys beyond just their arbitration?” general manager Rick Hahn said. “For us, we decided in this instance we’d much rather bear the potential risk of injury going forward than the risk of him being done in a White Sox uniform in four years.”
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Sale will earn $850,000 this season, $3.5 million in 2014, $6.0 million in 2015, $9.15 million in 2016 and $12 million in 2017. The White Sox hold options for 2018 at $12.5 million and for 2019 at $13.5 million. Both club options have $1 million buyouts attached.
The team option for 2019 can also increase to $16 million if Sale wins the Cy Young Award or $15 million if he finishes second or third in the vote.
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Last season, Sale struck out 192 batters in 192 innings and finished sixth in the Cy Young vote even though he admitted he tired down the stretch from an increased workload. His ERA-plus -- a metric that measures a pitcher’s value against the rest of the league and takes into account park factors -- was 142 last season, which ranked fifth in the majors behind Justin Verlander, Johnny Cueto, Clayton Kershaw and David Price.
Sale’s rotation-mate Jake Peavy sees benefits to the deal for both sides. Prior to the announcement, Peavy said such an accord offers Sale peace of mind and gives the White Sox a chance to capitalize on a potential stud pitcher.
“It gives him and his family security,” Peavy said. “It lets him worry over the next few years not about what his salary or will, it lets him worry about being healthy, trying to pitch for the team and get outs, which is a huge thing for everybody. The team is going to have some leverage to go after a team-friendly deal or they wouldn’t do it at this point. It works out for everybody where both sides give a little bit and you get a great guy, ultimately who’s going to be the face of the franchise, locked up, and I think it’s a great move on both sides if it does come to fruition.”
Teammate Paul Konerko also said he thought such a deal made sense for the White Sox based on Sale’s work ethic and ability.
“As long as those two are there where a guy is good, talented at what he does, and is just a gamer, wants to be good and will show up, it makes sense to do it,” Konerko said. “That guy is going to do well. If he’s going to do well, you might as well lock him in and don’t let it get just out of control.”
Some analysts believe Sale’s mechanics will lead to an eventual breakdown. They think he has more potential for a Tommy John surgery than a Cy Young trophy.
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The concern has been raised several times this offseason because Sale’s workload increased 121 innings, up from 71 in 2011. Although Hahn acknowledges the risk for injury is there with Sale, he knows the same stands for any pitcher. The club is willing to bank on its history of keeping pitchers healthy and chooses to take a chance with Sale.
“Based on the potential compensation going forward, certainly if Chris continues to perform at the level he did last year, it has the potential to turn out to be a very fine deal for the club,” Hahn said. “And even if he for whatever reason takes a step back and continues to be a fine starter in the American league it should provide a nice value to the club.”