When it comes those supposedly advantageous, arb-gobbling contract extensions, the White Sox's recent history is rather sad. Since Gavin Floyd accepted a four-year, $15.5 million extension in March of 2009 while John Danks declined one, it's been a rough ride for every subsequent candidate.
It started with Mark Teahen, whom the Sox locked up in March of 2010 for three years and $14 million to supposedly insure themselves against the impending arbitration boost heading the way of a sleeping baseball dynamo. The less said about that one, the better.
The Sox tried again with Alexei Ramirez in February of 2011, signing him to a four-year, $32.5 million extension that kicked in starting in 2012. You know, just in time for his plate discipline to crater and cause his offense to plummet to career-worst levels. His defense still makes him an asset, but the surplus value that once made him a Cuban em-bargain is in jeopardy.
At the end of the 2011 season, the Sox gave Sergio Santos a three-year, $8.25 million contract extension with three club option years afterward. It had the makings of a win-win situation when it happened, but the Sox traded Santos to Toronto for Nestor Molina in December. So far, they haven't lost anything -- Santos pitched six games for Toronto in 2012 before undergoing shoulder surgery, and he's out of action with triceps soreness at the moment. But since Molina has disappointed, they haven't gained anything, either.
Take those three guys, then add in a couple others who looked like they were destined for such security before succumbing to self-inflicted damage, physical (Carlos Quentin) or psychological (Gordon Beckham). When it comes to cultivating fresh talent, it's been an arid three years.
None of these missteps or non-steps have killed the Sox, but they've done wonders to limit their ceiling. When every attempt to get out in front of salary ascent leads to a dead end at best and a cliff at worst, you're left relying on overachievers to steal a year or two of excess production, along with other marginal gains. Hope isn't a rock-solid strategy.
Rick Hahn knows the Sox are hurting by paying retail, and so he's taking his first shot at the mega-bargain contract so many other teams have been able to enjoy, locking up Chris Sale with a five-year, $32.5 million contract that potentially takes care of his first three years of free agency.
The only argument against this move is, "He's skinny and throws all weird." Perhaps there's a reason many don't or can't mimic his delivery, but the only Sale-specific instance of imminent danger was the bullpen demotion in early May ("His elbow barked a few times last year," said anti-extensionist Keith Law in a chat on Thursday). I figured Sale's performance afterward proved that the elbow episode was a result of four factors:
- Sale using the wrong terminology to disclose discomfort.
- Ventura's first significant health crisis as a manager (or non-player).
- Uncertainty in the ninth inning after Hector Santiago and before Addison Reed.
- The Sox being on the road.
Had Sale overreported soreness at home, there probably would have been the kind of closed-door discussion with the front office that ultimately resolved the issue before risking a panicked, clumsy account of it to the media. Alas, while everybody recovered from the debacle and restored the contents the McFly family photo, they're still dealing with the doubts it cast.
Of course there are doubts about Sale. There are doubts about every pitcher every year of their careers. The Mark Buehrle Phantom Injury was a spring training chestnut for a five-year stretch, and he's thrown 200 innings a dozen years in a row.
In every other respect, Sale is not every other pitcher. Not every pitcher is 23-year-old, three-plus-pitch-twirling death to lefties. Not every pitcher has exceeded expectations in each of his first three major-league seasons ... after just 10⅓ minor-league innings. Sale is special, the Sox's medical staff is special, and if you don't double down on that combination when your internal information offers no outstanding argument against it, you may as well field the 2013 Astros' rotation every year. Nobody held it against the Sox when Philip Humber went on the DL last year, so Houston GM Jeff Luhnow won't have to shield himself from slings and arrows if his most veteran starter gets injured again.
Hahn's Job One is to set up the next core after Paul Konerko's Sox career comes to a close, whenever that happens. Sale now anchors the post-2014 vision from the pitching side, and he has the talent to stay well ahead of his escalating salaries, even if he experiences a little bit of a comedown from his breakout season. When the biggest commitments on your payroll are among your biggest overachievers, you, sir or ma'am, have cornerstones. A GM can find production without them, but good luck stringing together postseason appearances that way.
Here's Hahn on the signing: