The Nationals are the latest team to inquire on the availability of White Sox’s ace Chris Sale this offseason according to a report from Bob Nightengale. Nightengale went on to add the caveat that ‘no serious talks’ had surfaced with anyone yet however.
Sale has had his name bandied around the rumor mill since late July when he was scratched from a start after a pretty peculiar ‘clubhouse incident.’ At first, it looked like Sale was being scratched from a start just in case a trade was worked out prior to the deadline. However, as news come out, it was reported that he had a ‘non-physical’ incident in the clubhouse, and was sent home altogether. Within an hour and a half of the original White Sox statement, Tommy Stokke and Julie DiCaro were reporting that Sale had literally taken a knife to the White Sox jerseys because they weren’t comfortable. At the beginning of the season, Sale was also an adamant voice against management in the Drake LaRoche saga.
With all of that taken stock of, it’s not difficult to imagine a rift between Sale and White Sox management. Sale put himself directly against team staff twice during the 2016 season, one of which resulted in suspension.
This, in tandem with the White Sox’s 78-84 record in 2016, have made the 27-year-old Sale a hot topic in the rumor mill. However, the White Sox don’t have to deal their ace lefty. Sale is under team control through the 2019 season, and dealing him away would signal a rebuild to many fans.
While the final outcome of the White Sox season wasn’t ideal, it’s easy to forget that the team started out 17-8 in April. And, with the right additions, it isn’t that difficult to imagine the White Sox being a contender in the AL Central—at least for a Wild Card spot. Without Sale on the roster, that case becomes a lot harder to make.
The Nationals had the second best starting rotation in all of baseball according to FanGraphs’ WAR, just barely behind the powerhouse Mets’ rotation. That being said, ten pitchers made starts for them over the course of the 2016 season, and some stability may be desired by Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals’ front office.
If the Nationals were to add Sale, it might be at the expense of one of their pitchers, though not likely either of Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg, making their top three perhaps the best in the league when healthy. Presumably, two of Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, Joe Ross, or Lucas Giolito would be kept to round out the back of the rotation.
Sale managed his largest workload of his career last season despite his suspension, throwing 226.2 innings to a 3.34 ERA and 3.46 FIP. While his strikeout numbers dwindled substantially by nearly seven percentage points, Sale benefited from a much more favorable BABIP than in 2015. This could signal that the left-hander was able to pitch to more effective contact without trying to generate whiffs, or perhaps that he was helped by some good luck or maybe a little bit of both.
Expect Sale’s name to continue popping into the rumor mill for the remainder of the offseason until he is either dealt or reports for Spring Training. While he is an interesting trade candidate, the White Sox should not feel motivation or pressure to move their best player just because of previous transgressions though.