Offseason trade rumors are circulating at a frenetic speed, and it seems like every day new and unexpected names are getting tossed into the ring for potential trade fodder. New on that list is Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale, who is drawing attention from the Atlanta Braves, among others. Even if Atlanta doesn’t add him to their new starting rotation alongside R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, it’s interesting to note that Sale’s name is in the ring for trade discussion. For most White Sox fans, Sale would have been considered an untouchable piece of the roster, especially with three years and just $38 million left on his contract.
This offseason seems different than others, though, with no names off limits for teams who tasted contender status in 2016. The White Sox floundered after a hot start in 2016, and they might be willing to put major pieces into motion if they don’t like their chances of winning next year. Sale’s relationship with White Sox brass also seems tenuous after slashing teammates’ throwback jerseys so he wouldn’t be forced to wear one in a game.
Sale is a five-time All-Star, and generally considered one of the better starting pitchers in the game. For any team, especially one without a genuine ace in their rotation like the Braves, he would make a great addition. Sale is second only to Clayton Kershaw for WHIP among active players. His 10.09 strikeouts per nine innings is the best in all of baseball among active players, and his career strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best among all living baseball players at 4.78. Sale is a strikeout machine. He’s an incredibly talented pitcher, with laser-focus and determination.
So what would the Sale trade mean for the Tigers, though? With the Tigers in the AL Central alongside the White Sox, they see the Sox 19 times a year. Sale faces the Tigers an average of four times a season. In 29 starts against the Tigers his record is 8-7. He has maintained a 3.05 ERA (versus his career average of 3.00) and a WHIP of 1.117 (slightly higher than his overall average of 1.065).
The Tigers have actually had Sale’s number as far as home runs, with 22 career home runs against him, the highest number of dingers Sale has given up against any team. This, of course, includes the monster home run J.D. Martinez hit in his first at-bat back off the disabled list this year. These might seem like a lot of good reasons to face Sale as often as possible, but for several members of the current Tigers roster, the towering left-hander has been nigh on impossible to hit against.
While Miguel Cabrera (.304/.429/.587), Jose Iglesias (.346/.370/.500), and Victor Martinez (.435/.481/.761) all maintained decent numbers against Sale in 2016, other members of the team struggled mightily. Nick Castellanos (.120/.148/.160), James McCann (.190/.261/.238) and Justin Upton (.200/.385/.200) couldn’t quite unravel the mystery of how to hit against Sale. If Sale were to move into a different division or league, the Tigers younger batters would not need to spend nearly as much time in a year trying to best him.
With Sale’s name now in the rumor mill there’s some question as to where he might go. The Braves have been mentioned as a possible new home for Sale, as have the Nationals. In previous years Sale drew some interest from the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, and Rangers, all teams that might still find the lefty appealing.
Wherever Sale lands, it seemed likely it will not be within the AL Central, so Tigers hitters can breathe a little easier next year. As can the White Sox equipment manager.