Having taken a look at the schedule, Manager Ozzie Guillen has decided that he'll try and go with a four man rotation to open the season. His team has off days on April 4th and April 14th which should allow him to easily keep his four other projected opening day starters on their regular rest cycle. He then plans to fill in the rotation with spot starters as needed. Likely candidates for that role would include long man Tony Pena, or minor leaguers Philip Humber or Lucas Harrell.
Guillen also made it plain that he views the talented young lefty Chris Sale as a reliever. Sale was the White Sox first round pick last year and was the first player from his draft class to reach the Majors after just 10 innings of Minor League work. Initially the plan for the White Sox had been to have Sale prepare for the 2011 campaign as a starter - or so said GM Kenny Williams. There were plenty of good reasons for that of course and one of them was because of Peavy's injury and his uncertain status for 2011. But the other was, or should've been, because his value is significantly greater as a potential dominant starter than as a dominant reliever.
However the White Sox all-in methodology this off season, exemplified by blowing past established payroll highs and patching together a team filled with back-loaded contracts, also appears to have permeated the plans for the teams most talented (and arguably only) high-end prospect. In order to maximize their competitiveness in 2011 it now appears that the White Sox will use Sale as a reliever.
In doing so, the team is taking a big gamble.
First of all, I think the Sox bullpen is already likely the strongest in the division. Though the return of Joe Nathan is potentially a huge positive, the team has taken significant hits to the depth of that unit this off season. And while the Tigers back-end has the potential to be strong, they don't have great depth and the pitchers forming the back-end will be a pair of relievers in Joaquin Benoit (-1.09)and Jose Valverde (-0.78) who's ERA was significantly lower than their FIP marks. Now we like to talk about regression, and it IS a fact of life, but that doesn't inherently mean those two will regress next year. Only that there is a likelihood of it in the near-term, and a near certainty of it in the long-term.
The White Sox took some lumps too with the departures of long-time closer Bobby Jenks, Scott Linebrink, and J.J. Putz. But the unit still featured a pair of solid relievers in Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos, and the team brought in former Twin Jesse Crain to work as a setup man. I also feel the team has the best Minor League depth in terms of potential 2011 bullpen arms in the division save for the Kansas City Royals.
Adding Sale to that group certainly won't hurt, but it will take away from valuable developmental time. The interruption will hinder Sale from developing his changeup which is still more of a fringe pitch at this point in time, but a key to any long-term position in the starting rotation.
Perhaps more importantly, at least as far as the White Sox 2011 season is concerned, it leaves the team dangerously thin in the starting rotation. We know who the five guys are who the White Sox would like to have comprise the starting rotation for most of the season, but in the event of a season ending injury to someone, who will the franchise turn to? Last year it was top prospect Daniel Hudson, who the team later dealt off for the mercurial Edwin Jackson. Heaven forbid two starters suffer serious injuries or ineffectiveness.
The White Sox could try and move Sale back into the rotation at that point, but then they'd be relying on a young man who's never made a professional start and who realistically lacks the ingredients to be an effective starter at this point. Something the Sox themselves are acknowledging by default by their refusal to give him an opportunity to help bolster the rotation this spring.
Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates and random thoughts.