After an offseason full of speculation about whether the White Sox would move Chris Sale into the rotation or keep him in the bullpen the drama is already over, as general manager Ken Williams announced that Sale will be used as a reliever.
Making that decision now is interesting because part of the reason why Sale moving to the rotation was considered a legitimate option stemmed from Jake Peavy’s uncertain health status. Peavy reportedly looked and felt good while throwing today, but clearly it’s too early to say when he’ll be ready to rejoin the rotation, let alone if he’ll be ready for April starts.
By making the call on Sale before knowing Peavy’s status the White Sox are seemingly saying he’s simply better off in the bullpen, where he dominated in his debut with a 1.93 ERA, .185 opponents’ batting average, and 32 strikeouts in 23 innings. However, he was a starter in college before going 13th overall in last June’s draft and the White Sox previously have indicated they feel Sale has a future atop the rotation.
That may still be true, but much like Neftali Feliz in Texas the decision to use Sale as a reliever in his debut and then keep him in the bullpen for his first full season makes it significantly less likely that he’ll ever get a shot in the rotation, particularly if he thrives as a reliever. I’m a big believer in giving young pitchers every opportunity to fill a 200-inning role before moving them into a 65-inning role for the rest of their career, but it’s awfully tempting to keep someone in a job they’ve performed extremely well in rather than taking the chance that they won’t have the same success in a different gig.
Most top starters could be elite relievers, but most elite relievers could not be top starters. It’s looking more and more like we may never find out with Sale.