Mark Buehrle says he'd like to return to the White Sox -- if they'll have him back.
In a perfect world, Buehrle would finish his career out with the White Sox, and a few years later see No. 56 be retired at U.S. Cellular Field. But it's not a perfect world, because if it were, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios wouldn't have tanked.
There are two options for the Sox here (duh), because Buehrle certainly seems willing to return. A look at the pros and cons of each:
Bring Buehrle back: Pros
- Buehrle is Buehrle is Buehrle.
After throwing six innings of two-run ball Wednesday, the 32-year-old left-hander is well on his way to an 11th straight season with 200+ innings pitched. His ERA sits at 3.72, and he's only had two years since joining the Sox rotation in 2001 in which neither his ERA nor FIP was below 4.00. He'll likely finish 2011 by bringing his career WAR total to 46, and while he's no longer the 4-win pitcher of his youth, Buehrle can be counted on for about 3 WAR per season. If he takes a three-year, $30-$33 million deal, he'll likely provide surplus value for the Sox over the duration of the contract.
- He's no Strasburg, but...
Buehrle won't put fans in the seats on a game-to-game basis, but the Sox will lose fewer season ticket holders if Buehrle is retained as opposed to let go. Nobody is going to renew their season tickets because Buehrle is retained, but many more than expected may cancel their plans if he isn't brought back.
- Cutter Sale
From a teaching standpoint, while Buehrle and Chris Sale are polar opposites outside of which hand they throw with, having the veteran around to -- hopefully -- assist Sale in developing a cutter would be a positive. Plus, that veteran presence on the pitching staff could hopefully be beneficial to Sale, assuming he gets a crack at the rotation next year.
Cash rules everything around Mark Buehrle. That's not to say Buehrle's going to heed the words of Method Man and get the money, dolla dolla bill y'all, but it's more to say the Sox need to slash dolla dolla bills, y'all.
Given the immovable contracts of Dunn, Rios and Jake Peavy, the Sox don't have much wiggle room when it comes to cutting salary. They could trade Gavin Floyd and retain Buehrle, although that would cost the team more money in the long run. Trading Carlos Quentin will help, as could a deal to send A.J. Pierzynski packing, although that's not too likely to happen.
That being said, Peavy's contract will be off the books after 2012 when the Sox exercise his $4 million buyout, and Pierzynski's $6 million salary will be gone as well. So if the Sox can find room in their budget for Buehrle's 2012 contract, they can keep him.
- Packin' Gavin
Without making any other moves, keeping Buehrle and moving Sale to the rotation would create a logjam. Buehrle, Sale, Floyd, Peavy, John Danks and Philip Humber would be around, while Zach Stewart won't sniff a rotation spot.
So even without the need for a budget cutback, the Sox would have to free up some room in the rotation. That probably means trading Floyd, which I'm already on the record as saying would be a bad idea. Danks' skid to the finish will leave him with a down 2011 season, so his value likely has taken a bit of a hit.
The Sox could trade Humber, but even if he's hardly a sure bet to repeat the 3+ WAR season he's had this year, his inexpensive price tag means the Sox have to hang on to him.
The same goes for Sale, although if the Sox want to get really radical with their cost-cutting, they could try to unload Rios somewhere while sending Sale along with him. But that would be an extremely dangerous way to cut costs, although the pair could end up in Toronto, which would be amusingly awkward for Rios.
So the question comes to this for the Sox: Keep Buehrle and trade Floyd or Danks, or let Buehrle go and keep Floyd and Danks [hopefully, because Stewart isn't an ideal candidate for next year's rotation].
Let Buehrle go: Pros
Most of these play on what's above, so they'll be in quick, bullet-point form. First, pros:
- Floyd and Danks stay: Again, not trading low on these two surplus-value producers is a big positive.
- Avoid regression: While Buehrle hasn't shown any abnormal signs of breaking down due to his age yet, one injury could pull his contract from providing surplus value to breaking even or worse. Plus, if the final year of his contract (2012-2014, let's say) is in his age 35 season, he'll be expected to experience some age-related regression.
- Save cash: The Sox have to save some money somewhere, and letting Buehrle walk is one of the easiest ways to do it.
- Fans. Casual White Sox fans may not feel the urge to renew season ticket plans or even make a trip or two to the ballpark if Buehrle's gone -- that's just speculation on my part, but those casual fans may view letting Buehrle walk as a sign the team isn't serious about competing next year. Again, that's just speculation. But, to me, there would be an attendance drop, however slight, by not bringing him back. Or course, there's no way to prove that it would or wouldn't happen without a flux capacitor.
- The rotation. With the AL Central stacking up to be fairly solid next year -- that's a topic for a separate post -- a rotation of Danks-Floyd-Peavy-Sale-Humber doesn't seem like one that'll be able to get by the fearsome offenses of Detroit and Kansas City. Ideally, the Sox could sub Buehrle in for Peavy, but that's unrealistic. Unfortunately, losing Buehrle will weaken the Sox rotation.
- Leadership! Guys like Sale, Humber, even Stewart could benefit from having the experienced Buehrle around -- Sale in particular. While this isn't a huge deal, it is something to recognize.
Conclusion: Unfortunately, it doesn't look like there's any viable way to keep Buehrle on the White Sox without hurting the team with a trade of Floyd/Danks or a decision to leave Sale in the bullpen.
So mark your calendars, buy tickets, watch it on TV -- Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011 will be Mark Buehrle's last start in a White Sox uniform.