Not only does Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn have to make the best decisions possible during the non-waiver trading frenzy, but he and manager Robin Ventura must also consider ways to protect their most valuable asset—Chris Sale.
In particular, Hahn, Ventura and the rest of the coaching staff must protect Sale’s left arm from overuse. He is that important.
While the season is by no means over, the Sox are quickly reaching the point of no return after being swept by the Minnesota Twins. Now would be a good time to start giving the left-hander—who clearly lost his composure after getting roughed up Wednesday evening—the opportunity to breathe a little bit.
Hahn signed Sale to a five-year/$32.5 million contract with the intention of having him be the rotation’s linchpin for years to come. He is that good.
If Sale continues to throw as much as he has been in what is soon to be a forgotten year, however, the Sox are inviting disaster.
By no means is that too many pitches—or too many innings—but, again, the entire dynamic of the 2013 season has changed for the White Sox.
Simply stated, relying on Sale to carry the greatest load on the pitching staff while in competition for a division title is one thing, doing it when the season is lost is another.
It is time to pull back on the reins a bit, and there is more than one way to do it.
The White Sox could go to a six-man rotation once Jake Peavy returns.
Or, if one of the starters is traded, Hahn could call up someone like Erik Johnson from Double-A Birmingham to get some experience at the major league level in advance of next season.
They could also skip a few of his starts or put him on a strict pitch count.
The fact of the matter is that the White Sox have options other than running Sale out there every five days and hoping that nothing bad happens.
Yes, he is a big boy, but watching his pitch total will likely be a career-long endeavor.
Should the White Sox begin limiting Sale's workload?
Every pitch and inning he doesn’t throw now increases the chance that he will stay healthy in the coming years. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it is a logical conclusion to draw.
And sure, major league pitchers should be ready to throw as many innings as the team needs. That is exactly the point, though. The White Sox do not need Sale to throw as much as he has been anymore.
His starts moving forward do not have the same importance as they once did. Very shortly, the Sox will not be playing for anything. They are, after all, 10.5 games in back of the Detroit Tigers following Thursday's action.
Is all hope lost for this season? No, but they do need to be pragmatic.
It would be an absolute pity to waste his best years on bad teams when something can be done to keep him fresh for some time.
The White Sox must protect Sale and limiting his workload now is the best way to start.