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March 6, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Setting Sail with Sale

by Daniel Rathman

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It’s an all-Chicago edition of the Roundup, beginning on the South Side…

Chris Sale, White Sox have discussed extension
Although the White Sox fell three games short of the American League Central crown in Robin Ventura’s first year as manager, their fans enjoyed several bright spots, the brightest of which was Sale. There were doubts, coming into 2012, about whether the wiry left-hander could withstand a full season’s worth of starts after spending his first two major-league seasons as a reliever. And, at least for one year, Sale emphatically silenced them.

The 23-year-old Sale showcased electric stuff throughout the season, delivering signature efforts in a May 28 duel with Matt Moore (career-high 15 strikeouts) and an August 22 silencing of the Yankees, in which he fanned 13 batters and surrendered only a Derek Jeter home run. All told, he amassed a 3.05 ERA and a 3.22 FIP, numbers that become even more impressive when you consider that he made 14 of his 29 starts in one of the league’s most hitter-friendly parks.

Now, according to CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes, Sale is hoping to capitalize on his stellar rotation debut with a contract extension. Hayes spoke directly with the lefty, who told him that there has been some “back and forth” between his agent, B.B. Abbott, and general manager Rick Hahn, but that there is “nothing too crazy right now.” Sale is entering his third full year in the majors, putting him on track to become eligible for arbitration next winter and making this a logical time for Hahn to put the wheels in motion to avoid a hearing in 11 months. On the other hand, though, the organization might want to see Sale endure another 30-plus-start campaign before investing in him for the long haul.

The White Sox babied Sale a bit in 2012, giving him a 12-day rest period around the All-Star break, but Ventura put plenty of weight on the left shoulder of his de facto ace down the stretch. Sale threw 113 and 118 pitches in back-to-back starts in September, and he eclipsed the century mark in eight of his last 11 outings. He showed some signs of fatigue toward the end of the season, most notably an increased walk rate, but those were to be expected in his first campaign as a starter and are not necessarily indicative of long-term durability concerns.

Despite the modest limitations on his workload, Sale was the seventh-most-valuable starter in the majors by PVORP (33.5) and the 10th-best by WARP (3.6). In fact, the only pitchers who compiled more value than Sale while logging fewer innings were Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. Not surprisingly, PECOTA was impressed: It projects Sale for a small uptick, to 3.8 WARP, over 182 2/3 innings, which—for the sake of comparison—is the same amount of value that it expects from Cole Hamels over 217 frames. If Sale could maintain that level of performance for 200 innings, he would likely be in line for Cy Young award consideration, alongside Felix Hernandez, David Price, and Justin Verlander.

Then again, whether a 200-inning load is annually feasible remains an open question. Sale’s mechanics are unorthodox at best and terrifying enough to prompt an Unfiltered post from Ben Lindbergh at worst.  And, while he spent the offseason on a high-protein, fast-food-laden diet in an effort to look less twiggy, Sale is still leaner than virtually every other elite starter in the league (though, if one weighty teammate is to be believed, he may have obese earlobes).

Nonetheless, Hayes noted in his post on Tuesday afternoon that Hahn has previously expressed confidence in Sale’s durability. If the second-year GM is willing to back up his words, then it’s conceivable that a deal could be reached before Opening Day.  

Cubs could trade Carlos Marmol
Across town, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are reportedly looking for a team that would part with a young pitcher or two in exchange for their current closer. Epstein agreed to trade Marmol to the Angels for Dan Haren in early November, but that swap fell through because of concerns that the Cubs medical staff raised about Haren’s MRI results. Thus, Marmol’s $10.5 million salary remains on the books, and the Cubs are not especially eager to pay it in a season during which they are projected to be battling to reach .500, rather than competing for a playoff spot.

Based on his lede in the afore-linked blog post, ESPN’s Bruce Levine seems confident that Marmol will be shipped out of the Windy City sometime in the next three-and-a-half weeks. The most likely destination…

Tigers suddenly desperate to trade for a closer
… might just be Detroit. A couple of days ago, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski indicated to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman that he was comfortable with his internal options for the ninth inning. But on Tuesday, Heyman’s colleague, Danny Knobler, heard from major-league sources that Dombrowski is “pushing hard” to acquire a proven closer from outside the organization.

Levine mentioned that the Tigers are including the erratic Marmol in their search for an alternative to even-more-erratic rookie Bruce Rondon, The 30-year-old Marmol’s contract includes a limited no-trade clause that allows him to veto trades to four teams, but the Tigers are not in that unwanted quartet. If Dombrowski and Epstein can find common ground in negotiations—and if Detroit’s evaluators believe that Marmol is a good bet to outperform Rondon, despite his own history of control issues—then this may be a perfect match.

One hurdle, though, is the Cubs’ focus on adding young pitching. Dombrowski’s farm system tilts heavily toward position players, and that could leave Epstein and Hoyer with relatively slim pickings if their desire to land a controllable arm in exchange for Marmol is unshakable. Then again, the Cubs are not likely to find a more desperate suitor than the Tigers, so whatever value they can extract from Dombrowski is likely to exceed other teams’ offers. If Marmol is packed up and ready for shipment to the highest bidder, the Tigers are by far the smartest bet.

But Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers and Chicago Sun-Times beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer slammed the brakes on Levine’s report. Wittenmyer tweeted later in the day that there is “nothing to [it] … especially with Detroit.” According to Wittenmyer, the Cubs will open the season with Marmol and look to move him before the trade deadline. That jibes with a recent quote from Hoyer (buried at the bottom of Levine’s post) in which the number-two man in the Cubs front office praised the righty’s conditioning and said outright, “Carlos is our closer.”

An attractive offer from Dombrowski might tempt the Cubs’ higher-ups to alter their plan, but it appears that Levine jumped the gun with the aforementioned lede. Kyuji Fujikawa—who has tossed a scoreless inning in each of his first three spring training appearances and seems destined to take over the ninth-inning job once Marmol is traded—is likely going to have to wait a few months.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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Rumor Roundup: Cardina... (03/07)
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