Of the many things that a successful 2013 on the South Side requires, Chris Sale reproducing the effectiveness he supplied in his first season as a starter is among the most important. He’s staved off critics of his mechanics thus far, and if he continues to do so, could be on his way to becoming the White Sox ace for years to come. You know what else would help him attain that role? A long-term contract. Dan Hayes writes that Sale has indeed discussed an extension with the club. Locking up Sale might seem like a smart move, but it doesn’t come without significant risk.
I poked at the possibility fairly recently, and spoke of the attrition rate for pitchers, weighed against what it might cost to the team to take the plunge. I used Felix Hernandez as an admittedly flawed reference point for what Chris Sale might pull in a long term deal and what arbitration might reign in for him. Well since then, Felix has gone on to become the highest paid pitcher in baseball. This almost seems like a cautionary tale. With Justin Verlander also on the precipice of a huge extension, getting the paperwork done sooner rather than later now seems have even more incentive.
Sale is entering his age 24 season and looks to build upon a solid 2012 that saw him throw 192 innings and have his name mentioned among the league’s elite pitchers. For that performance, the White Sox paid Sale $500,000. According to FanGraphs, the value returned was worth $22.2M on the open market. It’s never safe to assume that a player will replicate a performance when coming off of his best year to that point. But even the year prior, when Sale was coming out of the bullpen his performance produced $6.7M in value, according to the same system. The question is, of course, what kind of dollar amount would Rick Hahn and Co. put on Sale’s future? Can you pay for an ace? I don’t think so. Another year of ace performance might require you to, though. Eating the risk on Sale both staying healthy and continuing production may be worth the money saved before he’s proven that he’s no fluke.