White Sox pitcher Chris Sale’s wicked arm motion has many in the baseball world nervously waiting for the left-hander to suffer a debilitating injury.
But it hasn’t scared off the organization that drafted him four years ago. Instead, the Sox rewarded Sale after his impressive first season in the rotation. Sale agreed to a five-year, $32.5 million contract extension with the Sox on Thursday, a deal potentially worth $60 million.
With a premium on starting pitching, the Sox wisely locked up Sale before he potentially becomes more expensive. In comparison, Seattle signed 26-year-old right-hander Felix Hernandez to a seven-year, $175 million contract in the offseason. Hernandez finished in the top four of American League Cy Young Award voting three of the past four seasons, which included winning the award in 2010. The hope is that Sale can turn into a perennial Cy Young contender and deliver 15-plus wins a season.
But the Sox are taking a risk that Sale, who pitched a career-high 192 innings last season, can stay healthy. Sale’s delivery has drawn concerns about his ability to avoid a major arm injury. That fear was amplified last season when the Sox temporarily pulled him out of the starting rotation because of elbow soreness. Ultimately, he was allowed to return to his starting role after a clean MRI and some lobbying by Sale. He finished the season with a club-best 17-8 record and posted a 3.05 ERA, best among Sox starting pitchers.
For Sale, the new deal provides financial security. The Sox expect Sale’s contract to pay off in the future and aren’t worried a devastating injury will turn the contract into a burden.
“Are you going to stand on the sidelines and go year-to-year, which insulates you against that injury risk, or are you going to be a little more aggressive and (that) allows you the possibility of controlling premium guys beyond just their arbitration?” general manager Rick Hahn told reporters in Arizona. “For us, we decided in this instance we’d much rather bear the potential risk of injury going forward than the risk of him being done in a White Sox uniform in four years.”
Sale, who turns 24 on March 30, will earn $850,000 in 2013, $3.5 million in 2014, $6 million in 2015, $9.15 million in 2016 and $12 million in 2017. The Sox hold options for 2018 ($12.5 million) and 2019 ($13.5 million). Should either option be declined, Sale will receive a $1 million buyout. He initially was scheduled to make $600,000 this season after finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting during an All-Star season in 2012.