Chris Sale began this season by shifting from the bullpen to the rotation, moved back to the bullpen when the White Sox decided to name him closer, and then dealt with elbow soreness while making it very clear that he’d prefer to remain a starter.
Sale (and his agent) got his wish, returning to the rotation yesterday after an MRI exam showed no structural damage in his elbow and the results were … well, a mixed bag, mostly.
It looked like a potentially disastrous outing for Sale when he walked the first two batters he faced and then gave up singles to four of the next five hitters. However, he settled down after that and went on to throw five shutout innings after handing the Royals that early 3-0 lead.
And more importantly Sale felt healthy, telling Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago:
I feel as good as I have all season, so the credit goes to our training and medical staff who have worked have on keeping me strong and flexible. Learning how to deal with the process of having a minor injury was something new for me and beginning with the front office people and all the support staff I have been lucky to know they all have my best interest in mind.
Sale also reiterated how happy he was that manager Robin Ventura and general manager Ken Williams listened to his preference to remain in the rotation and made him a starter again even if it took a brief detour in the bullpen and some arm problems first.
Sale has proven that he can be a dominant late-inning reliever and that remains a long-term option, but he seemingly has the secondary pitches to thrive as a starter and so far has a 3.16 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 37 innings spread over six starts.
In light of the Astros’ deal for veteran designated hitter Carlos Beltran on Saturday, the Yankees are thought to be intensifying their pursuit of free agent Edwin Encarnacion, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. The Yankees never made an official offer to Beltran, but remain in need of a DH/first baseman to give them a little more power outside of a Tyler Austin–Greg Bird combo in 2017.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, are reportedly withdrawing their interest when it comes to the Encarnacion sweepstakes. According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, they will look for a hitter to beef up their lineup without taking a “big plunge” on the 34-year-old.
Encarnacion enjoyed another All-Star run with the Blue Jays in 2016, hitting at a .263/.357/.529 clip with 42 homers and a league-leading 127 RBI in 702 PA. He’s expected to command a significant contract in free agency, and agent Paul Kinzer said that a potential deal is unlikely to be finalized before the Winter Meetings as Encarnacion is not close to agreeing to any offer. Interested teams include the Blue Jays and the Astros, though Beltran’s signing appears to have effectively taken Houston out of the running for the slugger.
The Nationals are trying to go big this offseason, and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes that they are still in trade talks for White Sox’ left-hander Chris Sale and Pirates’ center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Both players figure to command a big return, as Sale delivered another Cy Young-worthy performance in 2016 and, despite a downturn in his production rate, McCutchen is still one of the more coveted sluggers in the National League.
In 2016, Sale led the league in complete games, with six, and turned in a 3.34 ERA and 5.2 fWAR in 226 2/3 innings. While teams have been sniffing around the White Sox’ ace since the trade deadline, the club is expected to maintain a high asking price — so high, said FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, that it may keep the left-hander in Chicago for the foreseeable future.
According to Heyman, four other teams are reportedly in the mix for Sale, including the Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, and Braves, though parts of Rosenthal’s tweet hinted that the Red Sox were maintaining their interest in hopes of striking a more affordable deal. Should the Nationals pursue a deal for Sale, it’s likely that they’d have to move shortstop/center fielder Trea Turner, which they appear reluctant to do.
McCutchen, meanwhile, is also drawing interest around the league after batting .256/.336/.430 with 24 home runs in 675 PA during 2016. He didn’t appear to lose much power in his eighth season with the Pirates, but took considerably fewer walks and struck out at a career-high clip.
The Nationals were said to be in the lead for McCutchen on Thursday, and there was some expectation that the club would wrap up a trade for the center fielder by the non-tender deadline on Friday. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi pointed out that the Rangers were also talking to the Pirates, however, and no deal has come to fruition as of yet.