Amid pricy climate, White Sox get ace on Sale
Humble left-hander's high cost still a bargain as teams across league open wallets
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Before Chris Sale became, well, Chris Sale, the young man already owned a house and two cars.
Sale, with his wife, Brianne, and son, Rylan, had built an extremely happy and stable life.
So, when the now 24-year-old ace hurler agreed to terms with the White Sox on a five-year, $32.5-million extension with club options for 2018 and 2019 last March, he did not feel the need to symbolically purchase anything extravagant.
"I got some new air conditioning," the two-time All-Star said with a wry smile. "That's about it I guess."
"Chris is a simple guy; he doesn't need a whole lot," John Danks said of his rotation mate and friend. "He just really wants to take care of his family and be comfortable, and I think he got that."
Talk of Sale's contract seems to arise whenever another top hurler inks a new deal. And make no mistake about the fact that Sale stands in the team photo as one of the game's upper-echelon starters.
Clayton Kershaw captured the National League Cy Young Award in 2011 and '13 and finished second in '12, eventually agreeing to a mammoth seven-year, $215 million extension; Sale, also a southpaw, received comparisons. The bidding for Masahiro Tanaka, which included the White Sox, ended at seven years, $155 million with the Yankees, and a few eyes turned to Sale.
Different situations. Different times in a career.
But the conversation inevitably reaches a man who has become one of the game's greatest bargains, owning a 6.9 bWAR while pitching in the AL during 2013. Don't try to foist that fact upon the humble, unaffected Sale.
"Don't feel bad for me," Sale said with a laugh. "You know, obviously I'm happy for Kershaw. I'm not mad at anyone for getting that kind of stuff. It's awesome for anyone.
"It is what it is. I knew at the time when I was going through the process what I could do and what I might be able to do if I waited or going through arbitration and all that stuff. I knew what I was getting myself into."
Getting Sale under contractual control means the White Sox already have at the top of their rotation a commodity for which other teams are willing to spend and trade without discretion. He featured an 11-14 record last season, purely a function of the White Sox struggles as a team, to go with a 3.07 ERA over 214 1/3 innings.
Sale's 226 strikeouts ranked him third overall in the AL, as did his 1.07 WHIP. His .230 average against placed him seventh. He allowed 184 total hits while holding lefties to a miniscule .135 mark.
Through this left-hander with the now famous funky deliver, the White Sox have a true leader in just his third full season as a starter and fifth as a Major Leaguer. He is a leader in the sense of his competitive fire, but also in his ability to learn from mistakes.
Take a moment from July 22, when with two outs and a runner on third, Sale was told to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera. Sale was not happy with the decision made by manager Robin Ventura and showed his dismay. It had nothing to do with Sale being worried about his personal statistics, and everything to do with his not wanting to back down to even the game's best hitter.
"He's not afraid of anyone in the league, so that just adds to his stuff," said White Sox catcher Josh Phegley, who was behind the plate on that night against the Tigers. "He has the confidence that he wants to get the best in the game out, and he knows he can. That's all he expressed."
"At the time, it was like, 'They don't believe in me. They don't have faith in me,'" Sale said. "That wasn't it at all. You are talking about the best hitter to ever play the game, and it was the right move all the way. I still wanted to go after him. I don't like giving people anything."
When asked whether his reaction would stay the same in a similar situation in '14, Sale said it probably would internally. But he understands the respect Ventura and his coaching staff have earned and deserve, a fact Sale expressed immediately after his anger briefly overflowed on the field and in the dugout.
The balance of fire and ice is something Sale enhanced by watching Danks, Jake Peavy and Mark Buehrle. In fact, some people see Sale as a Buehrle-type with better stuff.
"A lot better stuff," said a smiling Danks, tweaking his old teammate who is now with the Blue Jays.
"He might be one of the most valuable guys on the team," Phegley said of Sale. "You almost forget how young he is. He was drafted after I was, and I feel like he's 10 years older with how he goes about his business."
Under the terms of Sale's current deal, he earns $3.5 million this season in what would have been his first year of arbitration. He can make close to $60 million overall if the respective $12.5 million and $13.5 million options are picked up by the White Sox. He would also become a free agent at 31 if no extension were reached, putting him in line for a major deal after being perceived as slightly underpaid this time around.
Both sides got exactly what they wanted out of this deal. Sale received enough security to make him comfortable while forsaking a little bit of control on the back end, general manager Rick Hahn said. And regardless of the rising salary numbers around him, Sale does not have a single regret.
"Probably the easiest thing I've ever done," Sale said. "At the time I was 23, with a wife and a kid and planning on having more. It would have been stupid for me not to do that. It would have been selfish.
"This is a crazy game, and anything can happen. I could pull out of a parking lot today and get side-swiped by a semi-truck."