A juvenile in the Grand Canyon, with its numbered tag prominent.
Soooo you know how this whole column was going to analyze each of Sale's starts as he progressed through 2012? Perhaps you've heard by now that Sox management is moving him to closer, purportedly for the remainder of the season. As long as that proves to be the case, this will be the last entry in the ol' project, despite the substantial pile of terrible nautical allusions I stocked up on just for this.
That's not to say SSS won't be watching Sale closely from here on out. Let there be no doubt: whatever happens, Chris Sale's career matters a lot. Whether or not he proves able to start full time is a serious test of the organization's specific ability to groom and protect young pitchers. This in turn will speak to its overall (dys)functionality. The White Sox of the past decade have founded whatever success they have had on pitching. Don Cooper is very likely the best in the business at coaching them. Herm Schneider is the best in the business at keeping them healthy. Together, they are the Sox' competitive advantage. If that's been compromised in some way, I don't know how the Sox intend to compete over the long haul.
My personal theory is that they're fine but that a degree of rot afflicts the chain of command and resulted in at least some missing starts for Jake Peavy, not to mention the trade of Dan Hudson. This might be the case. Or maybe Coop and Herm just aren't perfect and everything is as it's always been. All we know is what happened, we don't know how the individuals that comprise the Sox management interacted to produce those fateful decisions. As such, turning Chris Sale into a legit number 2 starter or better suggests organizational health. Anything short of that is evidence of the opposite.
The version of Sale we had prior to his elbow tweak pointed the way forward for this team. He threw smoke, had a killer breaking ball, enough of a change-up and command of those pitches. A whole season of that and he's the best player on this team. Not best young player. Not best pitcher. Further qualification unnecessary B-E-S-T. And on top of that, he's being paid peanuts--Or carrion? Is that what condors eat? It doesn't cost much is the point. Signing, coaching, and protecting young talent is how you compete in major league baseball. It's also the sort of thing the Sox have not demonstrated they can do well. There are a handful of guys on this team under 27 and Sale was the only one who projected to be above average. Our minor leaguers are the worst in MLB.
In other words: if that version of Sale never materializes, the Sox are that much closer to a day of reckoning they've long staved off. They'll survive as long as Peavy, Rios and Dunn are as good as they were signed to be. And they'll certainly contend if on top of that Morel, Beckham, Viciedo and Danks figure it out. But the last couple seasons should make clear how incredibly lucky we'd be if all of those propositions played out in our favor.
The probable scenario is we'll stay mired in this .500ish morass, which once again might be enough in this crap division. And that might be enough to distract us from what a failure two division titles in seven years really is. What's more likely, though, is that we'll just have the one and be stuck watching Sisyphus roll the damn rock up the damn hill. Will Sale be ready to start? Can Paulie somehow keep it going? Is there really nobody at all in the farm system? And so on and so forth unless the organization develops the capacity to consistently stock the farm and major league team with cost controlled talent. Until then all we've got is a sheet full of depreciating assets. The clock is ticking.