The new $32.5 million man.
It was great news that the Chicago White Sox and Chris Sale reached an agreement last week on a five-year extension. However, the manner in which the contract Sale received from the White Sox is structured—$32.5 million over five years with two team options—is brilliant.
It has been some time since the White Sox had a pitcher of Sale’s caliber as young, left-handed pitching phenoms do not come around very often.
When they do, they tend to get quite expensive rather quickly. At times, this can force teams into making tough decisions. Think Johan Santana.
To be sure, the value of any contract is measured over time, and the White Sox are counting on Sale to perform at an All-Star level for years to come.
More will be revealed, but the extension Sale received is brilliant for three reasons.
Sale, signing autographs at Camelback Ranch.
It is tempting to include, but the impact of the extension on Sale’s psyche is not on the list.
Some pitchers fall victim to the mental rigors of being in the big leagues, and a new contract is thought to help with some of those anxieties.
Taking away the monetary concerns was supposed to help Buchholz focus on baseball, but that didn't turn out to be the case.
While he is 17-11 the past two seasons, he has battled injury and has a 4.24 ERA.
Sale is a different story. While the extension is a relief for him, he has always been focused regarding the game of baseball.
Look no further than his reaction after being pulled from the starting rotation last year. Sale fought for his job and won. The man is a competitor and did not need a new contract to alleviate the additional stress.
As it stands, the brilliance of the move deals with how it will impact the team’s finances and the pitching staff during the five years—seven, including the options—that Sale is signed.
This list will focus on the financial ramifications for the White Sox first.
Just one of many ovations Sale received in 2012.
It is not the first five years of Sale’s contract that are brilliant as far as the starting rotation is concerned, it is the last two.
The White Sox hold a $12.5 million option for 2018 and a $13.5 million in 2019. Bill Baer, in a piece for ESPN.com, said that, “the White Sox may have gotten themselves a bargain.”
Thanks to the option seasons, he is right. It is a matter of value.
John Danks’s contract can put Sale’s ’19 option in perspective. Danks—who is 0-1 with a 11.74 ERA in three starts this spring—is scheduled to make $15.75 million this season. That is an awful lot of money for a pitcher who has a career record of 57-60.
It is $2 million more than Sale would make seven seasons from now, when the potential value for Sale in 2019 is incredible.
Further, there are 18 starting pitchers whose current salary is higher than Sale’s will be if the Sox pick up his final option year.
Some of them—like Danks—have been disappointments. Josh Beckett, for example, is scheduled to make just under $16 million, yet was only 7-14 last season and finished with a 4.65 ERA.
Factor in the option years, and Sale’s extension will keep him in a White Sox uniform until he is 30 years old. Assuming he stays healthy, he will run through what could be his most productive seasons on the South Side at a very reasonable cost.
Sale’s contract is also brilliant because it will not hinder the White Sox for years to come.
For the past few seasons, the Sox have been dealing with contracts that, as ESPN.com’s Bruce Levine noted last year, have put them in a restrictive financial position.
Some of players with oversized salaries have been worth it. Paul Konerko, who will earn $13.5 million this season, has been a consistent leader in the clubhouse and on the field.
Others, however, have either been either inconsistent—Alex Rios ($13 million)—or a disappointment—Adam Dunn ($15 million) and Danks—while largely failing to live up to their salaries.
Including the $9.15 million the White Sox will pay Sale in 2016, they only have $25.9 million in scheduled salaries Better yet, he is the only player under contract for 2017.
Considering that only eight players represent 82.29 percent of the $113.9 million team payroll for the White Sox this season, Sale’s relatively modest contract is a departure from the recent business model.
Had the White Sox pushed Sale’s signing out until next year—or beyond—the amount of money they would have needed to invest in him could have been much greater.
Sale’s contract will ultimately provide the White Sox with a degree of payroll flexibility in the coming years, something they have not enjoyed for some time.
Sale is the next face of the franchise.
The biggest reason extending Sale was a brilliant move is that is locks in the ace of the White Sox pitching staff for at least five seasons.
The White Sox have a cornerstone pitcher to build around. Drafts and free-agent signings can now be built around a specific skill set.
For example, a right-handed compliment to Sale may be more attractive to the White Sox than a hard-throwing lefty. The contrasting styles would keep opposing lineups off-balance.
More important than the matchup problems Sale presents, though, is the fact that he is a dominating left-hander. 2012 was but a taste of what is to come.
Even with his “inverted W” delivery and lithe frame, the Florida Gulf Coast University product is in it for the long haul. He has the experience of long-time trainer Herm Schneider, the tutelage of pitching coach Don Cooper and the motivation provided by director of conditioning Allen Thomas.
What trumps all of that, though, is his ability to throw the slider.
His go-to pitch is a devastating combination of power and deception.
White Sox color commentator Steve Stone went so far as to compare it to Randy Johnson’s famed “Mr. Snappy.” It is that effective.
Hahn recognized that Sale is a caliber of pitcher that does not come around very often. He has the ability to lead the pitching staff for a long time.
A reason did not exist to delay this move.
It was brilliant.