Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/18/14
From the esteemed Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago: White Sox pitcher Chris Sale confirmed Tuesday his representatives have had discussions with the club about a contract extension. (snip) “We’ve been kind of back and forth but nothing too crazy right now,” Sale said Tuesday when asked about extension talks. Think of the headline potential. “Sale Extended: Now Through 2018!” That is SEO gold right there. Anyway, the White Sox are certainly not shy about signing their young pitchers to long-term contracts. Mark Buehrle signed a multi-year deal in lieu of free agency once upon a time, and more recently guys like Gavin Floyd and John Danks accepted many millions rather than explore the wonders of the open market as soon as possible. Signing the soon-to-be 24-year-old Sale long-term wouldn’t be the most surprising move given the franchise’s recent history. As you surely know, Sale was magnificent in 2012, his first season as a big league starter. The southpaw pitched to a 3.05 ERA (3.27 FIP) in a career-high 192 innings, during which he struck out 192 batters and walked only 46 unintentionally. He also got a good amount of ground balls (44.9%) as well. Sale’s velocity did trend downward as the season progressed (unsurprisingly) but not in a scary way. It’s not like he started throwing in the mid-to-high-80s or something come September. At 6.2 RA9-Wins, it was the best season by a ChiSox hurler since Buehrle back in 2005 (6.3). Unlike Danks last year, who was one season away from free agency, Sale is under Chicago’s control for a few more years. He’ll earn $600,000 this season, his final as a pre-arbitration-eligible player. The White Sox will then control him through 2016 as an arbitration-eligible player, albeit at much higher salaries (that will still be below market value). There is no urgency to get a deal done and the team’s motivation would be cost certainty through those arbitration years — Sale’s salary could jump in a hurry if he continues to rattle off Cy Young-caliber seasons — and possibly buying out some free agent years. Contract extensions for pitchers with between two and three years of service time aren’t at all uncommon, but Sale is a unique case. He spent a year and change as a dominant full-time reliever before making the jump into the rotation last summer. That in and of itself isn’t all that unique, but becoming such a high-caliber starter this quickly is. Sale is a rare breed in that regard. With some help from the MLBTR Extension Tracker, here are some comparable pitchers who recently signed extensions after 2+ years in the show. Sale Trevor Cahill Clay Buchholz Yovani Gallardo Jon Lester Platform Year RA9-Wins 6.2 5.2 6.2 3.9 6.8 Platform Year WAR 4.9 2.3 3.8 2.7 5.1 Career RA9-Wins 9.5 7.1 8.4 7.4 9.4 Career WAR 7.1 2.9 6.8 5.5 6.9 Years ? 5 4 5 5 Dollars ? $30.5M $29.945M $30.1M $30M Option Years? ? 2 2 1 1 Buchholz’s contract is the only one of those four that did not take effect immediately — he signed the deal in April 2011 but it didn’t kick in until 2012. Factoring in his 2011 salary, it’s basically a five-year contract worth $30.495 million. Right in line with the others in terms of dollars and years. Those four pitchers give us a pretty strong group of comparables, though I have to note the Gallardo and Lester contracts are already three and four years old, respectively. The Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed since then and teams have lots more money to spend these days, so there is inflation to consider. Based on our comparable pitchers though, $30 million or so spread across the next half-decade is a pretty damn good reference point for Sale’s contract talks with the White Sox. A five-year contract that takes effect immediately would buy out Sale’s final pre-arbitration year, all three years of arbitration-eligibility, and one free agent year. That would take him through his age 28 season, meaning the southpaw would still be in line for a huge free agent contract if he maintains this kind of performance (or even slips a little) and stays reasonably healthy. His representatives at Jet Sports Management probably love the the idea of getting $30-something million right now while still having a shot at a big free agent contract before their client’s 30th birthday. As with any multi-year pact, the club has to be completely honest with itself as far as its long-term assessment of the player. I may think Sale’s funky and somewhat violent delivery makes him an injury waiting to happen and you may think he’s ready to be a 200-inning workhorse, but it doesn’t matter what we think. It matters what the team thinks. The fact that the White Sox have already started some preliminary talks with Sale about a new deal indicates they believe he can be a starter for at least the next several years, at least on some level. If they decide to pass on more serious negotiations, it might be a sign they are wary about his long-term outlook.
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