Like telling the girl you have been dating you aren’t prepared to put labels on things, the White Sox appear to have told Chris Sale on Saturday that they aren’t really sure where they want to take this relationship.
One thing is certain: There is a lot of love going on between the White Sox and Sale, their first-round pick from a year ago who has given the club hopes for a bright future.
By coming to a deal with reliever Will Ohman on Saturday that adds another left-hander to the bullpen the White Sox have positioned themselves to use the lefty Sale in whatever role they see fit. Talk about refusing to make a commitment.
Need a starter for a month or so until Jake Peavy returns from the detached muscle under his right shoulder? Sale will be prepared for a rotation spot this spring.
Need somebody to close games now that Bobby Jenks has relocated to Boston? Sale showed at the end of last season that he might be up for the pressure-packed job.
Ask the White Sox point blank what they plan to do with the 21-year-old string-bean flamethrower and they leave all options open. (Sale will turn 22 two days before Opening Day.)
Ohman is expected to be used in the middle innings or a situational lefty late in games. Matt Thornton, another left-hander, could close games or be used again as a setup man. Those two pitchers, if sound, could provide enough left-handed coverage to allow Sale to join the rotation for a while. But for how long?
General manager Kenny Williams has said all along that he wanted another left-hander for the bullpen, so Ohman’s arrival doesn’t necessarily mean Peavy has had a setback in recovery that would make Sale a starter for longer than expected.
The reality, though, is that the White Sox don’t know when Peavy will be back, although they hope it won’t be any longer than mid-May.
Two questions remain, other than the obvious one regarding Peavy’s return: 1. What can be expected from Ohman? 2. Can Sale really be expected to jump seamlessly from the rotation to the bullpen if necessary?
Regarding Ohman, he has pitched well in two of the last three seasons, or ever since he left the Cubs. The one season he struggled was in 2009 when he was dealing with a sore shoulder that had him on the disabled list and reduced him to 21 games. His career batting average against when facing left-handed hitters is .208. But during his last three seasons, he has been with an American League club for only 51 appearances (with the Orioles last season).
As for Sale, as much promise has he showed last season, it’s easy to forget that he was preparing to pitch for Florida Gulf Coast University at this time last year. Gordon Beckham’s slow start last season showed that even the most promising of youngsters can have growing pains.
But if any evidence is needed on how good Sale can be, do what you can to unearth some video of his Aug. 18 three-pitch strikeout against Joe Mauer to end the sixth inning and it's not hard to see why the White Sox would be willing to throw so much at such a young pitcher.
Looking further down the road, if Ohman and Sale can hold their own as a reliever and starter respectively, then perhaps it opens the door to dealing Edwin Jackson and his $8.75 million salary for 2011.