Chris Sale is unlikely to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. Every indication from his quotes he is some combination of wary of repeating last-season’s fade, and being politely but firmly nudged out of it by the people who sign his checks.
"“I don’t think throwing as much as I threw last year and exceeding limits that were set, I don’t think throwing in competition earlier than I was supposed to be is best for myself and the team,” Sale told MLB.com during a phone interview from his Florida home. “I want to be as strong as I can for the whole year, for myself and for my team. I want to still have gas left in the tank if we get into October like I hope.“It would be awesome representing our country and playing in the World Baseball Classic. At the same time, my teammates are counting on me and I’m counting on myself to be there for those guys this year and come back as strong, if not stronger. I just don’t think pitching in competition before I was supposed to would be best for myself and the team.”"
As a White Sox fan, I’m more or less thrilled. Not over-the-top thrilled, because there would be some delight in Chris Sale eviscerating the entire world in an open competition. But after witnessing Sale spend the entire 2nd half unsuccessfully holding off mounting arm fatigue, adding high-leverage innings into the middle of his pre-season preparation for something that in no way helps the White Sox win baseball games loses its appeal.
That seems like a constant obstacle for the World Baseball Classic as a marquee. Success in Major League Baseball is all about maximizing value, and getting the most reps and opportunities for the best talent on the roster. With that in mind, a player as valuable, critical, and rife with injury concerns as Chris Sale–a top 5 AL starter who is needed to get through 30+ starts, but dealt with elbow soreness and velocity loss throughout 2012–has no business being put at risk.
That’s an easy argument to make, but I could talk myself out of allowing countless others if caution was the order of the day each time (Example: Danks and Floyd were hurt all of last year, Konerko is too old and achey, WHEN DOES RIOS GET A DAMN DAY OFF?, etc.).
One could even inquire how much work Hector Santiago needs to pile up before the season, since he’s been pitching steadily through in the Puerto Rican league for the past couple of weeks. Otherwise, he represents a case of a player for whom glorified exhibitions are a positive. Hector’s still an up-and-comer who could benefit from being called to perform as a starter, without his pratfalls being counted in actual MLB standings.
Of course, “a tournament of Hector Santiagos” probably isn’t a tagline Bud Selig is comfortable with, though it’s likely he won’t have to be. There will be enough players whose gusto for the competition will be enough that they will insist upon participating, and hyper-durable cases like Justin Verlander that only fools would worry about, that the rosters should be dotted with enough stars to promote.
But with this treatment of Sale, along with the demands made on his playing time during the All-Star Game, and also Jake Peavy’s sly ducking of work in that same contest, the Sox have made a point of not wasting innings on games that don’t matter.
And the more they make that point, the harder it is to see why anyone would.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan