Bizarre Chris Sale Clubhouse Blowup Further Muddies Complex Trade Talks

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 24, 2016

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale returns to the mound during the third inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

As if trading Chris Sale wasn't going to be complicated enough for the Chicago White Sox, then he had to go and carve up some jerseys.

If that second part lost you, boy do you have a story to get caught up on.

After Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported Thursday that the White Sox were prepared to sell at the August 1 trade deadline, the talk around Sale earlier on Saturday concerned whether he would be dealt. When the White Sox then scratched their ace left-hander from his start against the Detroit Tigers, MLBTradeRumors.com's traffic presumably picked up pretty well.

But then, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement that Sale had actually been sent home due to a "clubhouse incident before the game." A few vague reports later, Tommy Stokke of FanRag Sports provided the gory details:

Yup. This is a thing that actually happened.

And thanks to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, we have a clear-ish picture of why. A source told him Sale's initial protest was over the jerseys—of which the White Sox had earlier tweeted a picturebeing "uncomfortable." When the White Sox wouldn't relent, Sale let his frustration over his perception that "PR and jersey sales were more important than winning" guide his actions.

This is not the first time Sale has lashed out at his superiors. Although Rosenthal says he was not involved in this incident, you'll recall Sale had an angry exchange with White Sox Vice President Kenny Williams over the Adam LaRoche fiasco that unfolded in spring training.

Sale's 14-3 record, 3.18 ERA, 4.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio and recent All-Star start are just a few things that confirm the 27-year-old is still a very good pitcher. But in the last 24 hours, we've learned he's also a piece of trade bait who's less than pleased with the way things are going in Chicago.

It's hard to blame Sale for that. The White Sox entered Saturday at 46-50, putting them in line for a fourth straight losing season. But it's easy to blame him for creating this latest controversy. Instead of sucking it up and taking the high road, he played the part of a problem child who cries over spilled milk.

By all accounts, this had nothing to do with the trade rumors. But now we wait to see if said trade rumors will be affected by it.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The early indication is there's no change on Chicago's end. Rob Bradford of WEEI.com's latest report says the White Sox are no more willing to trade Sale than they were before. If that's true, it tells us the White Sox understand what they should be doing: carrying on as if nothing's happened and seeing what's what.

On the trade market, that means continuing to peddle Sale at an enormous price. A report from Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports put it at "five top prospects." That's the kind of asking price that makes it loud and clear that suitors have to come to the White Sox, because the White Sox don't have to go to them.

“I would expect them to ask for the moon,” a rival general manager told Heyman. “I think they have no interest in moving him unless it’s a no-brainer deal.”

But the question now is whether any of Sale's biggest suitors—i.e. the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox or Los Angeles Dodgers—are any more willing to meet that price after Saturday's events. As Stokke suggested in a radio interview (via Adam Kaufman), the answer may be no:

This could actually be true. The White Sox can act like Sale doesn't want out, but potential trade partners can just as easily act like he does and try to call the White Sox's bluff. That creates two possible scenarios.

Scenario No. 1: There is no bluff to call.

Despite the bad blood between Sale and his employers, the fact remains he's an ace pitcher. Not only that, but he's also still an affordable ace pitcher. The contract extension he signed in 2013 is only paying him $9.15 million this year, with just $38 million more on the way if his options for 2018 and 2019 are picked up. That's a small price to pay for a guy who's been a top-five pitcher since 2012.

So unless Hahn, Williams or White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is feeling petty over Saturday's drama, nobody in a position to make a call on Sale is going to stand up and say, "He has to go." That would be easy if he was some scrub threatening to drag down a winning team, but he's a star who can only buoy a team that's already bad.

Scenario No. 2: There is a bluff to call. Or at least just enough of one to get the White Sox to relent.

It would be one thing if Sale had done something bad enough to shave more than just a prospect ("maybe") off his trade value, but he didn't. And although four top prospects isn't the same as five top prospects, the downgrade is only from "really strong offer" to a plain ol' "strong offer."

If 2016 was just one bad year on a timeline with a bright future, rejecting it would be the obvious choice for the White Sox. But in their case, 2016 is the latest in a string of down years, and their farm system doesn't offer much hope of a turnaround. Baseball America had Chicago's system ranked at No. 23 in the spring, and now it's without shortstop Tim Anderson and right-hander Carson Fulmer.

And even if the White Sox don't want to get rid of Sale, they could at least be open to it. If the bad blood subsides, there will cease to be questions about his trade value. But if it doesn't, the questions could persist or multiply. So, perhaps they'll make a blockbuster deal now that they might not be able to make later.

Which will it be in coming days? That puts us in best-guess territory, so here's mine: Sale ends up staying in Chicago.

The odds of a trade were probably low to begin with. There are only a handful of teams that can afford to pay the White Sox's price, and his talent and contract gave them two reasons not to budge. Although it makes for good headline material, the White Sox shouldn't let what happened Saturday overrule either of those motivations.

But if nothing else, there's no denying this whole situation is weirder than it was before. Maybe it wasn't his intent, but Sale effectively voiced his say in his trade value when he cut up those jerseys. As a result, talks between the White Sox and his suitors are going to have a different tenor.

That shouldn't matter...but we'll see.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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