With the dust barely having settled on the 2010 MLB season, arguably the Chicago White Sox biggest X-factor for 2011 could already be declared in the form of pitcher Chris Sale.

Or rather the decision on what to do with Sale.

With Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Edwin Jackson and Jake Peavy penciled in as starters for the White Sox, one has to wonder what the role of the No. 13 pick in the 2010 draft will be for 2011.

The plan was always to make Sale a starter, but even after a strong showing in his 23.1 MLB innings out of the bullpen, the depth of the White Sox starting staff could make it impossible for Sale to become a starter, pending the penciled staff’s health.

The question now is whether or not Sale should even be a spot starter.

Would moving Sale in and out of the bullpen bring negative effects to the Florida Gulf Coast University standout, where, in his final season, Sale struck out more than 36 percent of the batters he faced in 103 innings? 

It’s a decision that could change an entire player’s career and where the White Sox finish in 2011.

After 10.1 innings pitched in the minors, Sale was called up to the big leagues, making him the first player from the 2010 draft to get to the big leagues.

From there Sale pitched 23.1 innings, giving up five earned runs on 15 hits and 10 walks, while striking out 32 and saving four games thanks to a high 90s fastball and a devastating changeup mixed in with a hard-breaking slider.

The 21-year-old left-hander was supposed to serve as an insurance policy if Peavy were not ready to return from surgery to repair a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his right shoulder come April 2011. Pitching coach Don Cooper, however, has openly stated he feels moving Sale back and forth between the bullpen and the starting staff would be a mistake.

Cooper feels Sale will be a starter one day, but does not feel he should step in when the 2011 season begins if Peavy is not ready to go.

GM Kenny Williams, however, has stated if Sale happens to be in the starting rotation in April, the White Sox could go with a six-man rotation when Peavy returns, pending the health of the staff. A six-man rotation would make things easier on the young arm of Sale and the fragile arm of Peavy, but it would cost the White Sox a bullpen spot.

Another option would be starting long reliever Tony Pena until Peavy returns, but Pena is arbitration-eligible, so the front office will have to decide if they would like to increase Pena’s salary. Pena made $1.2 million in 2010, sporting a 5.10 ERA in 100.2 innings pitched for the White Sox.

On the other side of all of this is if the White Sox did want to trade Floyd, Jackson or Danks for a missing piece, Sale would be an option to step into the starter’s role.

Everything is based around the health of Peavy. Peavy’s recovery is reportedly going smoothly, but Cooper has stated he does not feel Peavy will be ready and it may not be the smartest move to rush him.

So the question remains as to who will fill Peavy’s spot in the starting rotation, while he is out and if it does happen to be Sale, will he remain in the rotation, essentially splitting the fifth spot with Peavy.

It’s November and the decisions are already piling up.

There is no offseason in sports.

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