CHICAGO -- Chris Sale is back after a five-game suspension stemming from his misguided arts-and-crafts session last weekend. He'll make his 136th career start for the White Sox on Thursday, facing the Cubs in the final game of the Crosstown Cup series.
And then there's this added subplot: Could this be Sale's last start for the White Sox?
The trade winds were already swirling around Sale before his outburst, and that breeze has only intensified. He told MLB.com on Monday he still hopes to win a championship on the South Side, but Sale is the biggest name currently creating buzz as Monday's deadline for non-waiver trades approaches, with the Rangers, Red Sox, Dodgers and Astros among many teams with interest.
He hopes not. He told MLB.com on Monday he still hopes to win a championship on the South Side. But Sale is the name currently creating the most buzz as Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, with the Rangers, Red Sox, Dodgers and Astros among many teams with interest.
How'd we get here?
Given Sale's standing as a five-time All-Star and contract that runs through 2019, it was shocking when White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said he's "extremely open-minded'' on all trade options, including the twin aces who the team has been building around the last three years.
I figured Jose Quintana (a 2016 All-Star signed through 2020) would be the 27-year-old left-hander most likely to be moved. But Sale has been the headliner in trade talks, with the narrative taking off after he was suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 retro uniforms the team was supposed to have worn before his last scheduled start. It's a fascinating situation that can be argued either way.
As great as Sale has been, he hasn't thrown a single pitch in the postseason and isn't likely to for the White Sox this season. FanGraphs currently gives the White Sox a 5.2 percent chance of making the postseason.
A hot streak could still get the Sox back into the division and American League Wild Card race but they've gone 27-40 since May 10. That tends to dampen the enthusiasm.
Beginning with the signing of Jose Abreu after a 99-loss season in 2013 and extending through the June 4 trade for James Shields, the White Sox have added one piece after another in the hope of giving Sale a shot to pitch in October, but that haven't won more than 85 games during his big league tenure.
Hahn said last week that it this is the time to consider all options, including a rebuild. He has been listening to offers on many players.
Sale's value has always been high on the trade market. But this may be the best time ever to trade a starter under an extremely reasonable multi-year contract, as no high-end starters are headed for free agency after the season.
As talented as he is, Sale's competitive temperament suggests he might not be built for even a season-and-a-half or two of rebuilding. He, like every other pitcher, is also a health risk although he's been surprisingly durable given his thin frame and three-quarters, crossfire delivery.
Don't trade Sale
Come on. He's Sale. He's the face of the franchise. You're really going to trade him?
While Sale isn't on Clayton Kershaw's level -- no one is -- he's been the AL's most reasonable facsimile of Kershaw since moving into the starting rotation in 2012, at age 23. He just started the All-Star Game and has been in the top-six in AL Cy Young voting each of the last four years. This might be the year he wins the first of multiple Cy Youngs.
Given the potential seven-year contract (containing club options for 2018 and '19) Sale signed in 2013, he's arguably the best value in the Major Leagues. Sale earns $9.15 million this year and won't earn more than $16 million annually under this contract, even if he triggers all the elevator clauses).
Sale's fastball was clocked at 99.1 mph in his first start this season (his all-time high of 99.4 came against the Angels last year) but it's only one of three plus pitches. His slider and changeup make it impossible to look for the fastball.
Hahn points out the White Sox are under no pressure to trade anyone now, with multiple chances to consider trades for Sale and Quintana in the future. He believes there would be a vibrant market to trade pitching next winter, with even some teams currently in the second division -- such as the Braves, Phillies and Rockies -- possibly getting involved.
The White Sox should make every effort to trade him, assuming they can get the kind of franchise-changing talent that seems attainable in this seller's market.
High-level pitching without a first-division lineup isn't worth as much as you think. The White Sox need to grow a young lineup they can keep together for a five-season run (or longer).
They haven't developed position players internally -- Tim Anderson and 2016 first-round pick Zack Collins could be part of the long-term cast -- so it's time to go get them in trades.
The Cubs (shortstop Gleyber Torres) and Red Sox (18-year-old right-hander Anderson Espinoza) paid heavily in trades. Reports have said the White Sox are seeking five good prospects for Sale, and in this climate they just might get them.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.