White Sox

Sale moving to bullpen, will close

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Sale moving to bullpen, will close

In a move that has serious short and long-term repercussions, Chris Sale is no longer a starter.

According to MLB.com's Scott Merkin, Sale experienced some tenderness in his elbow and in an effort to keep him healthy, the White Sox are moving him to the bullpen, where he will close. Dylan Axelrod will start Sunday's contest against the Tigers, while Hector Santiago will move to middle relief.

On Wednesday, Sale appeared on Chicago Tribune Live and seemed pleased with his development as a starter (see his full comments in the video to the right). So that's why Friday's announcement is so jarring.

Short-term, this is both good and bad news for the White Sox. The good news is that the Sox probably won't have to worry much about the ninth inning, which has been shaky with Santiago pitching as the closer this season. Sale has been dynamite as a reliever, posting a 2.58 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 37 walks in 94 13 innings between 2010 and 2011.

But losing Sale as a starter may outweigh gaining him as a closer. Assuming Sale was able to stay healthy as a starter, he had all the makings of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. In 32 innings over five starts this season, Sale had a 2.81 ERA with 29 strikeouts and eight walks. But his velocity saw a drop in his last outing, which may have precipitated this move, along with his reported tightnesssoreness.

There's little chance Sale will provide more value to the White Sox as a closer than as a starter (again, assuming Sale could've stayed healthy as a starter). Case in point: through five starts this season, Fangraphs had Sale worth about 1 win above replacement -- only half a win less than he earned in 58 relief appearances with the White Sox in 2011.

Simply put, Sale can't have as great an impact on the White Sox if he's only pitching one inning at a time. Of course, this move was made for reasons beyond value, and Sale can't contribute anything if he winds up on the disabled list. So if moving him to the bullpen ultimately is a way to keep him healthy, then it's the right call.

For Axelrod, this is a huge break. He has a chance to earn a spot in a big-league starting rotation for the first time in his career, and if he's able to pitch half as good as he did in Charlotte, he'll earn it.

Four Triple-A starts are hardly reliable, but at least they were four very good ones. Axelrod posted a 1.08 ERA with 26 strikeouts and four walks in 25 innings for the Knights before he was called up when Jesse Crain went down with an injury in late April.

With Axelrod in the rotation, the Sox will have a difficult roster decision on their hands when Crain returns. Nate Jones would be the most likely candidate to be shipped off to the minors, although he has a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings. The Sox will probably opt to keep Zach Stewart in the bullpen given his long-relief abilities.

Sale's move to the bullpen gives the Sox an excess of left-handed relievers, though, so perhaps the other option is to send Santiago down or, just speculating, part ways with Will Ohman, who has a 6.23 ERA in 8 23 innings this season.

But whatever move the Sox make in that regard will be minor compared to Sale's move back to the bullpen. The door may not be shut on Sale starting at some point in his career, but it appears to be open by just a crack.

Sale was drafted No. 13 overall to be a starter, no matter how impressive he looked pitching in relief. Many evaluations pegged Sale as a future reliever, though, and right now, it looks like that'll be his role.

Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

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Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

The Cubs made the Jose Quintana deal knowing it would have been more difficult to give up Dylan Cease if he was already performing at the Double-A level, and that the White Sox organization would be a good place to continue his education as a young pitcher.

While Eloy Jimenez keeps drawing ridiculous comparisons – the running total now includes Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz – Cease is more than just the other name prospect from the deal that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break.

“We still project him as a starter,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during this week’s GM meetings in Florida. “He certainly has the stuff where it’s easy to envision him as a potential dominant reliever. But to this point – for the foreseeable future – we deal with the starting and continue to develop him as a potential front-end arm.”

The Theo Epstein regime still hasn’t developed an impact homegrown pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from winning 292 games, six playoff rounds and a World Series title across the last three seasons, while still being in a strong position to win the National League Central again in 2018.

Without Quintana and his affordable contract that can run through 2020, Epstein’s front office might have been looking at the daunting possibility of trying to acquire three starting pitchers this winter.

While surveying a farm system in the middle of a natural downturn, Baseball America ranked seven pitchers on its top-10 list of prospects from the Cubs organization: Adbert Alzolay, Jose Albertos, Alex Lange, Oscar De La Cruz, Brendon Little, Thomas Hatch and Jen-Ho Tseng.

So far, only Alzolay, an Arizona Fall League Fall Star with seven starts for Double-A Tennessee on his resume, and Tseng, who made his big-league debut in September, have pitched above the A-ball level.

Cease – who went 0-8 with a 3.89 ERA for Class-A Kannapolis in his first nine starts in the White Sox system – has a 100-mph fastball and a big curveball and won’t turn 22 until next month. That stuff allowed Cease to pile up 126 strikeouts against 44 walks in 93.1 innings this year, putting him in the wave that includes Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen.

“Ideally, we have a lot of guys we project to be part of the future, very good, championship-caliber rotation,” Hahn said. “In an ideal world, there’s not going to be room at the inn for all of them. You only have five in that rotation and some of these guys will wind up in the bullpen. In reality, as players develop, you’re going to see some attrition.”

One spot after the White Sox grabbed Carlos Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Cubs did Kyle Schwarber’s below-slot deal, using part of the savings to buy out Cease’s commitment to Vanderbilt University ($1.5 million bonus for a sixth-rounder) and supervise his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Cease was never going to be on the fast track to Wrigley Field, and now the White Sox hope he can be part of the foundation on the South Side, where it’s easier to sell a rebuild after watching the Cubs and Houston Astros become World Series champions.

“It doesn’t change really for us internally in terms of our commitment or focus or our plan or our timeline or anything along those lines,” Hahn said. “I do think, perhaps, it helps the fan base understand a little bit about what the process looks like, where other teams have been and how long the path they took to get to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series (was). In Chicago, many fans saw it firsthand with the Cubs.

“There are certainly more and more examples in the game over the last several years to help sort of show fans the path and justification for what we’re (doing).”

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

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USA TODAY

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

The White Sox continued their rebuild Thursday by trading for an intriguing young right-handed pitcher.

The South Siders acquired Thyago Vieira from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for international signing bonus pool money.

The 24-year-old Vieira is a Brazilian native and has only made one appearance in the big leagues, striking out a batter in one perfect inning of work in 2017.

While his career minor-league numbers don't jump off the page — 14-19 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 13 saves and 7.4 K/9 in 290.2 innings \— Vieira has been reportedly clocked at 104 mph with his fastball and was ranked as the Mariners' No. 8 prospect at the time of the deal. He also held righties to .194 batting average in 2017.

Here's video of Vieira throwing gas:

And this may explain why Vieira was even available:

Control has been an issue throughout his career, as he's walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in the minors. He has improved in that regard over the last few seasons, however, walking only 22 batters in 54 innings across three levels in 2017 and he doled out only one free pass in 5.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

What does this deal mean in the big picture for baseball? How did the Sox pull off a move like this while not having to give up a player in return? 

This may help shed light on the situation from Baseball America's Kyle Glaser:

Either way, the White Sox may have just acquired a guy who could potentially throw his name in the hat for "future closer." Or at the very least, throw his name in the hat for "best name."