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Two historically sensible options for Mark Buehrle in 2016

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Report from Toronto says he's set on pitching for the Cardinals or retiring, but here's a way to make a White Sox reunion fit

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Toward the end of the season, word surfaced that Mark Buehrle was going to retire at the end of the season.

During the Blue Jays' run into the middle of October -- during which Buehrle was not on Toronto's postseason roster -- he said that wasn't necessarily true.

Now in the middle of November, the Toronto Sun has found a compromise between the two.

In April the Jays opened in New York with a five-man rotation of Hutchison, Dickey, Daniel Norris, Mark Buehrle and Sanchez. The five had combined for 710 career starts and 14 combined seasons of 30-plus starts.

Come April, unless someone comes over the hill, the Jays will start with Stroman, Estrada, Dickey, Sanchez and Hutchison. They have made 395 lifetime starts with five 30-plus seasons (four by Dickey, one by Hutchison).

Buehrle will either retire or pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, his home town team.

This makes a lot of sense, as pitching for the Cardinals would be the way for Buehrle, the Missouri native and resident, to ease his way into retirement. He had stated his desire to pitch for St. Louis at a couple different points during his White Sox career -- sometimes it was harmless Cub-ribbing, and other times his camp had to squelch rumors:

The agent for Mark Buehrle shot down an Internet report that the left-hander hopes the White Sox will give him a $500,000 buyout so he can become a free agent and pitch for his childhood favorite St. Louis Cardinals.

But Buehrle seems to like publicly musing about his retirement -- which is curious for somebody who is otherwise low-maintenance, although it does align with his mischievous streak -- so who knows what his real plan is.

Whether in our offseason plans or reporters' wish lists, the idea of a White Sox reunion in 2016 is a popular one. I'm a little bit averse to it, if only because it seems odd to prioritize a guy who didn't make a postseason roster for a team with a shortage of left-handed pitching when the Sox have so many more pressing needs to address.

Yet I can't deny it's kind of a fun thought. While a return to the Cardinals would appeal to Buehrle's own history, I keep rolling around an idea from White Sox lore:

Ted Lyons, Sunday starter.

While Lyons was a righty and pitched for a lot of bad White Sox teams, there are a lot of similarities between the two pitchers through their first 16 seasons.

  • Lyons: 207-196, 225 IP per full season, 3.84 ERA, 114 ERA+
  • Buehrle: 214-160, 215 IP per full season, 3.81 ERA, 116 ERA+

But as Lyons began working his 17th full season at the age of 38, manager Jimmy Dykes found a creative way to ease his decline --by turning him into "Sunday Teddy" with just one start per week. Reading the research journal of SABR member Thomas L. Karnes, I'm just going to throw out some paragraphs that catch my eye:

The White Sox, too, seemed to play better baseball on the Lyons' days, getting 14 runs off the Philadelphia Athletics on one Sunday, and then hammering Bob Grove of the Red Sox, who also had a banner year in 1939, for seven more the following week. The club seemed to realize that the Sox finally had something to promote, and press releases henceforth referred to Lyons as "The Sunday pitcher" and urged the fans to come out on the day the team would probably win.

Still, Lyons was by no means a clown, often pinch hitting, running, hitting fungoes to the fielders and helping younger players. Very gracious with autographs, especially to the youngsters, Lyons acquired enormous popularity all over the league, and opposing management in those Depression years were pleased to have him pitch and help fill the stadiums on Sundays, when the Sox were in town.

Lyons evidently made little effort to strike out his opponents, but concentrated instead on letting them hit the ball. Sox fielding by this juncture had markedly improved, what with the coming of Joe Kuhel, Bob Kennedy, Mike Kreevich, and even Luke Appling after his first few seasons. Lyons regularly rewarded his fielders with a free dinner for exceptional plays. But Conlan declares that Lyons himself was the best fielding pitcher that he ever saw, and The Tribune, reporting one August game in Washington, noted in some astonishment that Lyons had committed his first error in several years.

This arrangement probably carried Lyons into the Hall of Fame. Over the four years as a Sunday starter, he went 52-30 with a 2.96 ERA (143 ERA+), and he saved the best for last, leading the league in ERA (2.10) and ERA+ (171) over 180 innings at the age of 41. The only thing that stopped him was World War II, as he enlisted after the 1942 season.

And when he resumed the schedule after resuming his career in 1946, he also resumed his success. You might not see it in the 1-4 record, but the 2.32 ERA over five starts (all complete games). That time, he stopped pitching because the White Sox fired Dykes and named Lyons the manager, and he didn't want the "player-" prefix. Which is a shame, because maybe Lyons could've kept pitching well past age 45.

Whatever the case, it helped his bottom line:

  • Wins: 207 to 260
  • ERA: 3.84 to 3.67
  • ERA+: 114 to 118

And with Buehrle's Hall of Fame case fringe at best, that might be one way to give it a push.

Of course, there's really no practical way the White Sox could turn "Sunday Teddy" into "Sunday Buehrle" because it'd require a 13-man staff. Those are inherently wasteful, but it's even worse when one pitcher is saved for one day a week. However, the idea of re-signing Buehrle before waiting for the rest of the offseason to shake out isn't the most practical use of resources, either, so I'd be game for the ride if it were presented as a historical tribute.

Either that, or they could give Lyons a statue. It's not as big of a crime as the lack of one for Luke Appling, but it's close.