Chris Sale moves back to the pen, takes over as White Sox closer

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Now this one is a real shocker: Chris Sale, who has been very impressive in opening the season 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in his rotation debut for the White Sox, will move back to the pen and take over as the team’s closer, it was announced Friday.

Health concerns are the obvious reasoning behind the switch, though the White Sox indicated he’d be ready to pitch out of the pen right away. It’s a bizarre move if it’s completely preemptive. If it’s not and he is hurting now, then it’s still bizarre, since it’d make sense to give him at least a week or two off.

From a performance standpoint, Sale’s move to the rotation couldn’t have possibly gone any better. Not only was his record sterling, but he had cut down on the walks and become more efficient with his pitches. On April 25, he needed just 101 pitches — 71 strikes — to get through eight innings against the A’s. In his win Tuesday, he threw 88 pitches in six innings against the Indians.

This also certainly isn’t a case of the White Sox needing Sale more in the bullpen than in the rotation. Hector Santiago had struggled in the closer’s role, but he never figured to be more than the team’s fourth or fifth best reliever anyway. Addison Reed, who has all the makings of a long-term closer, still hasn’t given up a run in 8 2/3 innings this year. Matt Thornton has a 2.38 ERA.  Jesse Crain, though hurt at the moment, is another quality arm.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are likely taking a big downgrade in the rotation by promoting Dylan Axelrod into Crain’s spot. Axelrod was a great find for the team after being let go by the Padres, but he’s not going to open eyes with his stuff. He’s probably going to be a long-term middle reliever, as opposed to a decent fourth or fifth starter.

All in all, it seems like a very odd choice from the outside looking in. Still, if the White Sox think this is the best way to keep Sale healthy, we’ll just have to trust them on that for now. It is a real shame, though. Sale was looking like a legitimate No. 2 starter, and he’s never going to produce that kind of value out of the pen.

Phillies, Red Sox interested in Carlos Santana

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The Phillies and Red Sox appear intent on pursuing free agent first baseman Carlos Santana, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports. Santana rejected a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Indians on Thursday and is expected to draw widespread interest on the market this winter. The Mets, Mariners, Angels and Indians could make a play for the infielder, though no serious offers have been made this early in the offseason.

Santana, 31, is coming off of a seven-year track with the Indians. He batted .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs and 3.0 fWAR last season, making 2017 the fourth-most valuable year of his career to date. Although he was primarily stationed at first base over the last year, he could step back into a hybrid first base/DH role with the Red Sox, who are hurting for infield depth with Hanley Ramirez still working his way back from shoulder surgery.

As for Santana’s other suitors, the Mariners are far less likely to pursue a deal after trading for Ryon Healy last Wednesday. Neither the Mets nor the Phillies have a DH spot to offer the veteran infielder, and the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins appears to be blocking the way at first base. Then again, Santana may not find a more enticing offer outside of Cleveland, where Edwin Encarnacion might otherwise be the club’s best option at first base. During the GM meetings, Indians’ GM Mike Chernoff said he “love to have both [Santana and Jay Bruce] back” in 2018, but hasn’t backed up that love with any contract talks just yet.