Grey areas muddle the Sale vs. Sox situation

By James Fegan 

Chris Sale could have done pretty much anything else and gotten a pass.

Publicly harangued the White Sox front office and ownership for rebuilding?

Who doesn’t wish more could be done to make the White Sox contenders in 2016? Finally a star that cares about winning and isn’t afraid to say it!

Called for Robin Ventura to be fired?

Pretty subordinate and unprofessional, but he’s finally taking charge as a leader!

Got into a shouting match and had to be separated from Dioner Navarro?

I mean, have you seen his framing numbers?!?

But Sale did none of these things. Well, he’s inching closer to the second one, but even that would have been more coherent than slicing up a bunch of uniforms, and single-handedly canceling a promotion he wanted out of for fear those glorified softball uniforms would mess up his mechanics.

The petulance, destructiveness and pure narcissism of Sale’s actions are inexcusable, and his explanations to’s Scott Merkin, where he apologized but otherwise doubled down on his reasons for carrying out the most unhinged tirade in major league baseball this year, did nothing to establish him as a rational actor. The White Sox spent all weekend and Monday dealing with a bullpen reeling from having to cover all nine innings of Saturday after their ace pitcher’s tantrum, and yet Sale is still talking about being irritated over other people in the organization not putting winning first. It’s a bad look.

But it’s also a distraction. Just because Sale is wrong doesn’t mean his blowup was not precipitated by very real issues. Tensions are always high when trade rumors are swirling in a clubhouse, but especially for a club with a young, great core that’s built to win now and exploded to a 23-10 start, and are now pondering a rebuild.

Sale was pitching for a rebuilding team just two years ago. That the Sox are potentially selling again means they didn’t build the organization up enough during 2013 and 2014, or they failed to expend enough to make their 2015 and 2016 clubs into contenders. Or more likely, they failed to do both, and now have a roster full of veteran stars in the prime wondering what is holding them back from playing for a World Series.

Worse yet, as off base as Sale could be, throwing his criticism at manager Robin Ventura’s feet is just as damning. Sale told Merkin, “Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” in reference to his dispute the organization over the promotional jerseys. Ventura is already the owner of a poor career record and regularly exposed as a rigid in-game decision maker, but is now witness to two humiliating clubhouse incidents in one year, and is no longer getting his top player’s public endorsement.

Pitchers are rarely top clubhouse leaders, and Sale has done plenty of damage this year to the idea that he can be a level-headed presence in the locker room, but having the franchise’s best player on board and on message is Job No. 1 for a manager. As much has Sale has been out of order, his actions reflect a similar state of disarray at 35th & Shields, and that needs to be addressed in a major way – whether he stays on the South side or not.

James is the Editor-in-Chief of BP South Side, Baseball Prospectus’ blog covering the White Sox. Follow him on Twitter: @JRFegan.

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