Is this the end of the remarkable career of Mark Buehrle?

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Mark Buehrle still remains a free agent with just a few weeks left until pitchers and catchers report to spring training for the 2016 season. It was rumored that the only way that Mark would return for a 17th major league season in 2016, was if his hometown team the St. Louis Cardinals showed interest in signing the 36 year-old southpaw. Thus far that has not happened, and while Chicago White Sox fans, myself included hoped that we would see a south side reunion and farewell tour in 2016 that also seems highly unlikely.

So I’m sitting here at my desk, going through things to cover and researching for pieces that I’m working on,  and it finally dawns on me that we may very well have seen the last of Mark Buehrle. He has not officially retired as of yet, so there has not been much talk about it. But in all reality this is likely the end of one of the best pitchers to ever don a White Sox uniform.

Mark Buehrle had an unlikely quick route through the White Sox minor league system considering he was drafted in the 38th round of the MLB Draft in 1998 out of Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri. Buehrle signed with the White Sox on May 21, 1999 and made just 36 total appearances in just under a year in the minor leagues. Buehrle pitched for the Single-A affiliate at the time, the Burlington Bees, where he posted a 7-4 record with a 4.10 ERA.

In 2000 Buehrle began the season with the White Sox Double-A affiliate the Birmingham Barons, Buehrle pitched his way to a 8-4 record with a 2.28 ERA while giving up just 17 walks over 119 innings pitched. He was eventually named the Southern League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher that season, and he was also the winning pitcher in the Futures Game during the MLB All-Star festivities.

On July 16, 2000 the then 21 year-old left-hander made his major league debut for the White Sox, throwing one inning against the Milwaukee Brewers allowing an earned run on two hits, while striking out one and walking one. Buehrle’s stint as a reliever was short lived as well, three days later he made his first career start against the rival Minnesota Twins. Buehrle pitched seven innings allowing just two runs on six hits, and earned his first major league win in the process.

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While Buehrle would return to the bullpen that season, and be used as a spot starter he compiled a 4-1 record with a 4.21 ERA over 55 innings pitched as the White Sox went on to win the American League Central that season, before being swept out of the playoffs by the Seattle Mariners in three games.

In 2001 Manager Jerry Manuel named Buehrle a starter in spring training, Buehrle in his first season as a starter went 16-8 with a 3.29 ERA in 32 starts. He threw four complete games, two of which were shutouts over 221.1 innings while only allowing 81 earned runs. This was just the beginning of a stellar career, defined by Buehrle’s signature feverish pace of play, often sending Sox fans home happy in under two and a half hours every five days.

Buehrle was not a big swing and miss type pitcher, but he had a solid arsenal of pitches that he was able to locate effectively enough to get hitters out start after start for parts of 16 seasons. Buehrle got hitters to ground, line, and fly out early on in counts and he always kept hitters on their toes with his rapid pace that he played with. Over his career Buehrle has an average time between pitches of just 15.8 seconds.

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Largely in part to his strong ability to get hitters out by contact early in counts, and often as opposed to striking out large numbers of batters Buehrle was always an extremely underrated player. Buehrle won more than 15 games in a season six times in his 15 years as a starter, and won over 10 games in a season every single season as a starter. Another huge plus to his ability to get hitters out early in counts was his low pitch count, in turn allowing Buehrle to be a major innings eater throughout his entire career.  In his 15 years as a starting pitcher Buehrle has only pitched less than 200 innings in a season once; in 2015 when he threw 198.2 innings, missing the mark by just four outs.

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In this era of pitching, the number of innings that Mark Buehrle was able to consume year after year is incredibly remarkable. Buehrle was truly an Iron-Man of pitchers in an era where Tommy John surgery was rapidly increasing in pitchers every season, Buehrle managed to start 493 games throwing 3,283.1 innings, and never spending an extended period on the disabled list over his 16 year MLB career.

While Buehrle was remarkably underrated because of his lack of flashiness, he manged to win a World Series Championship in 2005 with the White Sox, as well as throw a No-Hitter in 2007 against the Texas Rangers, and a perfect game on July 23 of 2009 against the Tampa Bay Rays. A World Series Champion, a five time All-Star, and a four time Gold Glove Award winner over his 16 years in Major League Baseball to go along with his 214 wins and you have to seriously consider talking Cooperstown in five years. Mark Buehrle may not be a first ballot, or even second ballot Hall-of-Famer, but he certainly needs to be in the discussion. He was a modern marvel of longevity, and durability in the era that saw astronomical Tommy John surgeries and pitchers spending seasons at a time on the disabled list.

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If this is it for Mark Buehrle, and we have seen the last dance for the southpaw workhorse , which all indications point to… This is a sad realization for White Sox fans and baseball enthusiasts alike. What a class act Mark Buehrle was for nearly 20 years in professional baseball, a guy from middle-America who was never the flashiest player on the field, but always that hardest working guy on the field. I can say looking back that as much as I love Paul Konerko, and Frank Thomas, and all the other greats that came through 35th & Shields,  Mark Buehrle is one of my most beloved players ever. So if somehow you stumble across this article in this massive world of publications, I want to say thank you for all of the memories, and thank you for being an admirable ambassador of how the game should be played, and how ball players of any age level should carry themselves.

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