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White Sox playing part in trade deadline pitching freeze

Rick Hahn is reportedly asking for impossible returns from Chris Sale, which he can do with a straight face as long as things are "normal" enough

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Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Robin Ventura said "things were pretty normal" after Chris Sale returned to the White Sox on Thursday from his five-game suspension. That may have not have been entirely forthcoming, but it’s not a lie, either. After all, the Sox lost the ground they gained, mostly due to a lack of offense, with assistance from poor decisions forced by a relentless string of close games. Whether the Sale-Ventura relationship is back to what it used to be or irreparably strained, you wouldn’t have been able to tell anything from the results of the game, which were about as normal as it gets for the White Sox.

Going back to what we talked about a few days ago, the Sox once again blew an opportunity to climb back to .500 with Sale on the mound, but unlike last year, this one wasn’t his fault. Without plus fastball command or velocity for long stretches, Sale didn’t overpower the Cubs like he did in the past — in fact, he went without a strikeout through the first three innings of a start for the first time in his career -- but by allowing two runs over six innings, he pitched well enough to win, or at least not lose.

And yet they lost. Basically, the situation is normal enough for the White Sox to proceed as planned, whether that entails keeping Sale or dealing him. Bob Nightengale, the USA Today reporter who seemingly has the tightest relationship with the White Sox front office, doesn’t indicate anything imminent while painting a picture of the current situation.

The takeaways:

  • Sale wants to stay with the White Sox, but doesn’t see a point in being around for a teardown.
  • Sale is treated as "competitive" instead of "crazy" (although I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive), he’s the most-respected teammate in the clubhouse, and so occasional flare-ups can be expected/tolerated.
  • Nightengale says he thinks any trade would make more sense in the offseason:

It will be another two months before the White Sox decide Ventura’s fate and perhaps a few months more before they determine Sale’s. It makes no sense to trade him now.

No one is going to give them their top prospects, including major league players, too, when they’re still in a playoff race. Why not wait until this winter, when everyone can be in on the bidding, and then decide whether they want their remodeling project to include Sale?

There would be no more valuable player on the market, considering Sale is owed $12 million next year, with options for $12.5 million and $15 million in 2018 and 2019. He’s the greatest bargain in all of baseball. If he hit the open market, he’d be a $250 million pitcher.

This is possibly true, although there are counterpoints for each. Beyond the usual caveat involving pitcher health three months from now, a team acquiring Sale would be doing so when they know he can tilt a postseason push that’s already in progress, while a team that isn’t immediately in the running could have him in their plans for the next three seasons. His market should be plenty open.

Whether the pitching market as a whole is active remains to be seen, and reporters are surprised by its dormancy at this stage. Jayson Stark tried to figure out why pitching-starved teams haven’t found help as easily as in previous years, and came up with four answers:

  1. Few rental pitchers who have to be moved.
  2. Few obvious sellers.
  3. Or at least obvious sellers who have desirable pitching.
  4. Every team has enough money.

"It's not the same," one exec said. "No team in the game has NO money. Some teams have less money than others. But no team has no money. It used to be that the teams with no money knew they had to move guys at the deadline. That basically doesn't exist anymore."

The White Sox are doing their part in the pitching freeze according to Jeff Passan:

Based on the packages White Sox general manager Rick Hahn is asking for Chris Sale, the chances of a deal between now and Aug. 1 at 4 p.m. ET are somewhere between 0 percent and 0 percent. Depending on the team, proposed deals have ranged from four to six players, according to league sources, and included All-Stars, young players with long-term deals and top prospects.

Considering the White Sox don’t have to trade Sale, this is the proper tack: Get blown away. Chicago is spreading a wide net, not just focusing on teams with top prospects like the Dodgers (Julio Urias), Red Sox (Yoan Moncada or Andrew Benintendi), Nationals (Lucas Giolito or Trea Turner), Rangers (Nomar Mazara) and Astros (Alex Bregman). And with that open-mindedness come some blockbuster possibilities.

The column goes off the rails with a speculative trade idea between the Sox and Pirates centered on Sale and Andrew McCutchen. Besides it sounding familiar, it also sounds like the worst idea by now, using their best trade asset to acquire a struggling position player. The White Sox usually accelerate declines instead of reversing them, so it’s best to ignore that part and focus on the pitching freeze.

Add it all up, and I’m not expecting anything drastic from the White Sox by the deadline. That might be nothing new, but it’s notable that a reporter like Nightengale would outline the Sox’ predicament and the way Sale’s fate is tied to it. Basically, no action now would seemingly force greater action later, whether it’s selling or power-buying. We've also said that before, but it has to be true one of these times.