GLENDALE, Ariz. — To have Chris Sale on the roster and under team contract control through 2019 is to have nothing to do with rebuilding. The White Sox opened spring training Friday with designs on winning the American League Central division.
If general manager Rick Hahn, vice president Ken Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf contemplated a rebuild after a third consecutive losing season, they didn’t dwell on it for long.
Sale, at age 26 remarkably now the Sox second-highest team member in seniority behind 29-year-old John Danks, might have torn a clubhouse apart had the Sox brain trust decided to tank. He’s tired of losing and wants to pitch in the postseason more than anything he can imagine.
“It’s the only reason we show up really,’’ Sale said Friday, surrounded by reporters after pitchers’ first official day of preparation for the 2016 season. “This is my seventh season, sixth full coming up. I’ve never even had a taste of it. I’ve never pitched in a meaningful game in my career.’’
For Sale, who is 57-40 with a 2.91 career ERA and four straight All-Star Games and top-six finishes in Cy Young voting, meaningful means playoff. “That’s the plan. Nobody cares what you do in the regular season. You get into the playoffs and nobody hears about the teams that didn’t go to the playoffs. Nobody really cares about who came in second place.
“So, we have to go. We have to win.’’
Whether there is enough around Sale and Jose Abreu, the centerpiece of the offensive side, to do that remains to be seen. Hahn said the Sox, whether they add to the roster or not, are built to win in a division in which all five teams are capable, he said.
“A lot can change, you need good health and the baseball gods to smile on you over the course of a long season but as we sit here today we feel well situated to contend,’’ said Hahn, citing his pitching staff as reason one and moves made to improve the offense and defense as two and three.
The Sox have made the postseason once, in 2008, since they won it all in 2005. It’s beginning to feel like a drought for the fans. For Sale, it’s worse. He’s 0-for-lifetime.
“It doesn’t matter how you get there: limping, finish strong, the whole way through, whatever. It’s just about getting there, and once you are there, I’ve heard anything can happen. That’s the plan for us this year, is getting there.’’
That Sale felt well enough to pitch six or seven more games after the season killed Hahn. Oh, to have Sale starting a pair of games in a playoff series.
“I know it didn’t look pretty but I felt strong at the end of the year,’’ Sale said.
Aside from missing the opener because of his freak off-field ankle injury during spring training, he made every start and is learning to navigate through an entire season by throwing less (if at all) between starts and working out more.
It was Day 1, and Sale was raring to go, approving the additions of feisty types such as Brett Lawrie and Mat Latos to the clubhouse mix.
“You go through a couple of seasons like we’ve had and you get some guys with not only their talent but their energy and leadership and personalities, I think that’s another thing that makes this ballclub more exciting,’’ Sale said. “We are going to have some attitude out there.’’
Opening night is April 4 in Oakland. Sale is such a sure thing to start it, manager Robin Ventura wasn’t even asked until he was walking away from his first-day press conference.
“As long as he doesn’t fall out of a truck,’’ Ventura said.