Sunday, February 20, 2011
Can Chris Sale Sell Himself For Sox Closer Role?
Chris Sale one year ago was in the minor leagues, not even on the spring training radar screen. The first I heard of him was when the Sox drafted him last year. The expectations were extremely high, that he would be a future White Sox pitching sensation. I checked up on Chris Sale throughout the season, but I didn't expect to see him. When Jake Peavy went down in July, I joked that maybe Chris Sale would step on a major league mound. It wasn't until a game versus Kansas City when I saw that happen. I saw him walk to the mound and strike out the first batter he pitched to. All three pitches 99 mph. I knew then he had a future.
He earned a 1.93 ERA, thirty-two strike outs, and four saves during the few months he threw for the Sox. Then during the off season I heard rumors he would become a starter. I had thought that was a good idea when he first came to the club, but after seeing how exceptional he was in the bullpen I had second thoughts. Recently the White Sox announced that Chris Sale would be best suited in the bullpen for 2011. Now comes the question, should he be the closer?
A majority of White Sox fans were upset that Bobby Jenks didn't come back. The closer threw intense heat and was a fan favorite among many. He threw the final pitch of the 2005 World Series, earning a save in game one during his rookie year. The White Sox were family to him, and he was family to the White Sox. Letting him go was a matter of too much talent in the bullpen, if that makes sense. It is possible the White Sox felt that with the addition of talented Jessie Crain, and current bullpen pitchers Matt Thornton and Chris Sale, there was simply no room for a high profile closer. Whatever the case Jenks had to pack his bags and move out to Boston, leaving an empty spot behind that would be hard to replace.
Matt Thornton is the obvious choice for the job, he would be the most experienced and safe pick due to his success last season. The only thing is he was great in the set-up role last year and maybe it would be more beneficiary to leave him in his comfort zone. However, if he did become the closer, Jessie Crain was set-up man for Minnesota so he could surely replace Thornton in that spot. Tony Pena can work long innings and in some cases even start, so he could win over long reliever. Will Ohman will probably be more prone to pitching when needed. He is more of a situational pitcher, used in situations when he is known to succeed. For example pitching to a lefty or when a certain amount of men are on base. As far as Sergio Santos is concerned, he could be a third contender for closer but most likely will be another arm used to get through a late inning.
Then there is Chris Sale. The young star. Only time will tell what place he will fit into best inside the pen, but at the moment he could definitely become the star closer. Sale would enjoy that role, it is just a matter of whether or not he can win it over Thornton. If not then he could thrive as a sixth to seventh inning reliever, setting down batters until Jessie Crain can set up Thornton. As Opening Day comes closer, it will become more clear what the bullpen will look like, but for now we can just speculate.