Like 99 percent of major league players in similar situations, Chris Sale gave the expected answer at every turn.
“I want to stay here.”
“My goal is getting the White Sox into the postseason.”
“This is the team that drafted me, and I want to help them win.”
Sale typically was a good soldier during his seven-year run (2010-2016) with the Sox, and he also developed into one of the top starting pitchers in baseball.
Most ace starters leave their teams when they reach free agency, but Sale was pitching on a team-friendly contract – a five-year, $32.5 million deal the left-hander signed before the 2013 season.
The contract also has a $12.5 million club option for this season and a $13.5 million club option for 2019.
Sale agreed to the below-market deal to protect himself in case of injury, but he stayed relatively healthy and was an All-Star in each of his five seasons (2012-2016) in the Sox’s rotation.
There would not be a sixth season.
Although he always said he liked playing for the Sox and never came out and demanded a trade, Sale’s actions in 2016 sent a clear message. He wanted out.
His stay on the South Side started deteriorating in spring 2016, when Sale berated Sox vice president Kenny Williams for asking first baseman Adam LaRoche to scale back the amount of time his son, Drake, was spending in the clubhouse.
It completely collapsed July 23, 2016, when Sale cut up the throwback uniform he was supposed to pitch in that night and was suspended for five games.
After the season, Sale was traded to the Boston Red Sox for four prospects, headed by second baseman Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech.
Looking back now, it’s a trade that still makes sense for both sides.
On the Sale front, he gave the Red Sox the ace they so desperately needed.
Sale piled up 308 strikeouts with Boston last year while finishing second in the American League Cy Young award voting.
Like his time with the White Sox, however, Sale ran of gas down the stretch in 2017. He also pitched poorly in his first postseason appearance, allowing nine runs on 13 hits (four home runs) in 92/3 innings.
As for the White Sox, Moncada is in his first full major league season this year, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance and disappointment.
Still learning the game at age 23, Moncada’s biggest flaw is hitting from the right side. Heading into Saturday’s game at Boston, the switch-hitter was 9 for 55 (.164) batting right-handed.
Kopech is the White Sox’s top-rated pitching prospect, and he should be in the rotation at some point after the All-Star break.
After a tough May and first start of June, when he allowed 24 runs in
321/3 innings, Kopech got back on track with Triple-A Charlotte on Friday night, giving up two runs in six innings to go with 10 strikeouts.
Outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe also is back on track with high-Class A Winston-Salem after an injury-riddled 2017 season. Through Friday’s play, Basabe ranked fourth in the Carolina League with eight home runs and had 28 RBIs in 52 games.
Right-handed pitcher Victor Diaz has not pitched this season because of a shoulder injury.
The Red Sox are in win-now mode, and the pressure on Sale is only going to increase as the season progresses.
The White Sox are in win-later mode, and they are counting on Moncada, Kopech and possibly Basabe to help them compete next year and contend in 2020.