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Chris Sale is the White Sox's Opening Day starter, but maybe he shouldn't be

Over the last 18 years, everybody besides Mark Buehrle has encountered problems after taking the ball first

John Danks could make a good human shield.
John Danks could make a good human shield.

Robin Ventura finally acknowledged what was shaping up to be rather apparent: Chris Sale is your 2013 Opening Day starter.

It's an obvious choice, both in terms of performance and status. Sale was the White Sox's best starter in 2012, and signing a five-year deal establishes him as the newest face of the post-Konerko Sox. There's no time like the present to get cracking toward that end.

But I would've liked it if Ventura teased it out longer, because I enjoyed the drama and speculation around the mystery closer last year. He could have easily drawn it out. You know, drop in weird sentences about having Sale ready by "April 2." Or maybe employ somebody to leak a Zach Stewart dark-horse campaign.

That might sound ridiculous, because it is indeed very stupid. But then again, Sale might not be the right choice when considering how important his performance is for 2013 and beyond. Maybe Mark Buehrle didn't have many problems over the nine seasons he opened, but take him out of the equation, and all you have is a pile of star-crossed starters.

Let's work backwards.

2012: John Danks

Before Sale signed his extension, it was Danks who was supposed to be the figurehead of the rotation after Buehrle left for Miami. One year later, Danks is uncertain to be on the Opening Day roster as he tries to rebound from surgery for a shoulder injury that ended his season in May.

2007: Jose Contreras

After Buehrle turned in the worst second half of any MLB starter in 2006, Ozzie Guillen changed it up by giving the ball to Contreras. Contreras proceeded to give up seven runs over an inning of work, and after the game, Guillen told the media that he was concerned about Contreras' mental state.

Guillen might not have only been talking about the 63.00 ERA, as nine days later, the Los Angeles Times reported that Contreras was implicated in a smuggling operation that brought his family to America. Guillen's support of Contreras was one of his finer post-2005 moments.

Alas, Contreras' start ended up being a too-perfect bellwether for both his season (10-17, 5.51 ERA) and his team's, too.

2001: David Wells

Wells delivered on his workhorse reputation for a good month and a half, including a successful Opening Day start against Texas. But Kenny Williams' biggest splash turned out to be a belly flop, as back problems ended his season after 100 innings and before July.

2000: Mike Sirotka

There's nothing wrong with Sirotka's 2000 season, as he went 15-10 with a 3.79 ERA (133 ERA+) and led an unheralded rotation to an AL Central title. The problem is that Sirotka didn't have a 2001 season ... or a 2002 season ... or a 2003 season ...

1999: James Baldwin

Baldwin earned the first start of the season despite posting a 5.32 ERA in 1998. He got extra credit for the way he came back from a demotion to the bullpen toward the end of June.

  • First 20 games: 2-3, 8.64 ERA, .967 OPS allowed over 57.1 IP
  • Last 17 games: 11-3, 3.45 ERA, .676 OPS allowed over 101.2 IP

But Baldwin couldn't carry that second-half success through the 1999 season, as he went 12-13 with a 5.10 ERA.

If Baldwin didn't start Opening Day, the alternatives would have been equally uninspiring. No White Sox starter posted an ERA under 5.00 in 1998, including the previous year's choice ...

1998: Jaime Navarro


1997: Jaime Navarro

To elaborate, Navarro earned the Opening Day start after going 9-14 with a 5.79 ERA in the first year of a four-year deal. He then went 8-16 with a 6.36 ERA in 1998, and the Sox resigned themselves to the fact that they weren't going to get their $20 million's worth.

1996: Alex Fernandez

Fernandez's final season with the Sox was also his finest, as he went 16-10 with a 3.45 ERA over 258 innings. He then went on to sign a five-year, $36 million contract with the Florida Marlins. Ron Schueler retracted a similar offer, and he right to do so, since shoulder problems limited Fernandez to only one full season afterward (although it was 1997, and he helped the Marlins win their first World Series as a result). Fernandez's departure only became an issue when Schueler replaced Fernandez with Navarro.

The Sox did get three draft picks out of Fernandez, which turned into Kyle Kane, Aaron Myette and Jim Parque. Does that make this any better? Not really, although Parque was fun for a little while.

1995: Alex Fernandez

Fernandez turned in a respectable season, going 12-8 with a 3.80 ERA. And this was the last time a non-Buehrle White Sox Opening Day starter went on to deliver a nice year with multiple strong seasons ahead.

When looking at this motley crew, it might have been wiser for Robin Ventura to throw Danks on top of the grenade. It certainly would have tested Ventura's ability to talk around things he doesn't want to talk about.

Or maybe Sale will toss a gem on Opening Day and go on to have a fine 2013 with no repercussions. If that's the case, then we have to watch out for another theory: Successful White Sox opening day starters end up giving the Marlins one good year. If that's the case, at least the Sox won't have to worry about that for five to seven years.


Speaking of Buehrle, it looks like somebody just realized what life looks like beyond Eyewash: