A possible Sale farewell

Writing topics don’t come easily these days, so it would behoove me to not ignore the obvious one offered by the Daily Herald’s Scot Gregor Tuesday night.

For Chris Sale‘s departure, the angst is all theoretical. He’s under contract for a while still, and is thus not a traditional trade candidate. There are no specific rumors surrounding him, they’re not actually rebuilding and stripping assets until they say they are, and doing so would be a dramatic turn against type for the franchise.

As far as dread of an imminent departure, Sale has nothing on Mark Buehrle‘s final start on a cold, rainy night in September at the end of the miserable 2011 season. Buehrle’s 12 seasons with the club were capped with a game so poorly attended that a fan was able to spell out “56” with white sheets on empty seats out in right field. Sale dread probably doesn’t even compare to Buehrle’s trade scare in 2007 as the team tanked and his contract situation left his future unresolved.

Perhaps Sale just isn’t Buehrle, a pitcher who was more of a fan favorite than a franchise player in raw value. His staying always required sentiment to remain in the calculus longer than was most efficient, and thus always seemed like it could end because it had to.

Sale’s departure is more about a dark view of a franchise; that the organization has declined so much that such an awful thing as trading away a homegrown star–and not even for the traditional reason–is possible. As much as an actual rebuilding plan would be a clear direction for the team, and in that sense, a breath of fresh air, it would be a confirmation of the worst view of the past two years.

It would seem to confirm that 2015 and 2016 efforts really represented the limit of what the Sox were able to do–and spend–to compete, and that they somehow believed they were both at the precipice of pushing for playoff contention and just totally gutting the team because contention was impossible and its pursuit pointless.

Sale would be leaving during a mystifying time. For seven-straight starts, he’s allowed two runs or more, which is the longest streak of his career. Six starts was already the longest streak of his career. It’s hardly been a bad stretch: he’s put up a 3.40 ERA, averaged well over seven innings per start, six of the starts have been quality and his 62/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio is heavenly. But normally dominant starts are more frequently…dominant, and Sale, with his three ideal pitches, hardly seems the type for an unglamorous and yeoman’s approach.

He always has been  somewhat inscrutable, but every step forward we take in understanding him–mechanics that look awful but are actually pristine, varying velocity that’s actually intentional, shirking of strikeouts that’s something other than disastrous–what he knows about himself and his competition and what he’s adjusting to and why, still feels like a mystery I try to find another clue for every five days.

Maybe this is speaking from a place of privilege having already witnessed a World Series team, but are they more special than a generational player? Are they more fascinating? Do we have more to learn about the game from a team that grapples it way through a playoff gauntlet, beating long odds, than from a player who possesses the ability to tilt the odds singlehandedly?

Sale could leave. I doubt it, but he could, but even if he stays, the mounting dread of missed opportunity will remain.


Lead Image Credit: Matt Marton // USA Today Sports Images

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