Good news for White Sox fans: Management still thinks of Chris Sale as a starting pitcher:
"Well, I'm a big believer of sticking to the plan until there's a reason not to stick to the plan," said Williams, as he sat and watched batting practice in the White Sox dugout. "The plan that was laid out for him was exactly what has happened so far. He would go to the Minors, get his relief shoes on, so to speak, come to the big leagues and play an important role down the stretch.
"He's done exactly that. The second part of that plan was for Chris to go to Spring Training [in 2011] as a starter and compete for a job in the rotation. I see no reason why we have to deviate from that plan. I understand the value of him down in the bullpen and how that sets up the bullpen. But we have the opportunity to stick with the plan in developing him as a starter in Spring Training.
"That allows us to take our time with Jake Peavy and ensure that he's 100 percent ready to go in Spring Training," Williams said. "The worst case scenario? Sale starts off and wins a rotation job in Spring Training and starts off as the fifth guy, which is probably early in the season more valuable than the first left-hander out of the bullpen."
It was easier in the olden times, when pitchers were just pitchers. Today, pitchers can quickly go from starting to relieving but not the other way around. Not quickly. There's a whole process that can take weeks if not months. In 2009, Phil Hughes started the season in the rotation, made seven starts, and spent the rest of the season in the bullpen. It wasn't until spring training this year that he was able to round back into shape as a starter.
So while Sale presumably comes to camp next season as a starter and might earn a rotation slot, if he's eventually sent back to the bullpen that's probably where he'll stay.
In 2011, anyway. Unless somebody gets hurt, the White Sox have plenty of starting pitchers but not enough good relievers. Right now, only Matt Thornton, Sergio Santos, and Scott Linebrink are locks for next season. Bobby Jenks is arbitration-eligible and should probably be non-tendered; J.J. Putz is a free agent this winter and figures to have plenty of opportunities.
Maybe somebody gets hurt. Maybe somebody gets traded. But right now, it looks as if Chris Sale will spend all or most of next season as a reliever. And if he's too good, it'll be hard to move him.