Is Chris Sale Worth Locking Up Long Term Right Now?


Evan Longoria is 27, he’s put in 5 extremely productive offensive years and played very well defensively at third base. Those 5 years have taken place in Tampa Bay while under one of the most team friendly contracts in the game. The team is now choosing to extend Longoria with hefty dollars that will essentially ensure that he spends the next 10 years with the team that drafted him. Though the Rays got off extremely cheap on the first contract it wasn’t without risk. Longoria inked himself to a 6-year contract (plus 3 more in team option years) within a week of breaking into the big leagues. That’s the confidence the Rays had in his ability, and it’s paid off. Now they show confidence in his ability to stay healthy into his mid-thirties, and we’ll need to wait a bit to see how that works out. It’s a lot of money, at about $17M a year, depending on how the yearly pay is distributed, but if his production continues, it’s cheaper than he’d get on the open market year after year. It got me thinking, is Chris Sale a candidate for this sort of treatment?

Sale has already been part of 3 seasons for the White Sox, with an increasing workload along the way including the jump from a highly effective bullpen guy in 2011 to frontline starter in 2012. That being so, it wouldn’t be in the same vein as a Longoria deal, buying out pre-arbitration years, along with the arb and beyond. If Sale can stay healthy, and continue pitching up to the level of ability he’s set for himself this last season, he’s going to be in line for some nice arbitration raises leading up to free agency in 2017 when he’ll be 28. An extended deal would at least create some savings in that regard.

It’s all about that paper. (Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE)

Felix Hernandez had a similar season in 2012 performance-wise to Sale. They are not the same pitcher, they do not have similar profiles, are different ages, builds, etc., but the results produced in the season come out somewhat comparable so I’m just throwing his name in to use as a very loose guideline for salary. If we give Seattle credit for being psychic (we are clearly ignoring the existence of Chone Figgins here), we’d have to assume they knew what Hernandez was going to do in 2012, and that’s why they paid him $18.5M for it. The point of all my stretches, assumptions and weird alternate realities is that Chris Sale is going to cost a lot of money. Wouldn’t it be nice to lock him up for, say, less than $18M a year?

It would be, if we were still in this alternate reality where we get to predict performance and assume that he does continue to be the Chris Sale that we’ve come to know over the past year. Thing is, there is a long and storied tradition in the major leagues. It starts with promise, and it ends in injury. This happens a lot. Pitcher’s get hurt, it’s what they do. Sometimes they perform for a bit before getting shelved, but guys pitching deep into their careers without missing gobs of time to injury are the exceptions. It makes less sense to lock a pitcher in early than it does a position player. Though, the Rays have gone this route with Matt Moore, signing him early and without much proof that he can produce, and he’s one year into that deal delivering about league average pitching performance. They bought out pre-arb years, so they’re paying above market value right now; but the back end of the deal are team option years, so they can cut their losses if he does get injured, or proves to be ineffective. The Sox could try something like this, with team options to protect themselves, but Sale has already shown that he’s good, and it wouldn’t be as cheap up front. Scouts don’t like Chris Sale’s mechanics; they say he’s got more of a chance to get hurt than most. In a way, his questionable mechanics are a blessing that keeps the Sox from prematurely taking such a plunge. Sale probably isn’t a long-term keeper just yet, not while he’s still affordable. In a couple of years the Sox may like to get a jump on his free agency, but they’ll likely give him every opportunity to prove he won’t be injured, and that he can keep his rate of performance up before they get there.

And consider this: If the White Sox were to have locked somebody up long term as he came into the league in the last few years it probably would have been Gordon Beckham, and it’d be pretty shabby looking upon KW’s resume.