Arvia column: Sox pitcher battles through flu-like symptoms, giving up only four hits in loss to Cubs
White Sox fans looking for good news in the wake of Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Cubs might want to consider this:
A source close to Mark Buehrle said Friday he was “99 percent sure” the pitcher would be in a Sox uniform next season.
“Well, that might be a little high,” the source conceded. “But Mark’s agent has been talking to someone. Whether it’s Ken Williams or Rick Hahn, I don’t know, but there have been discussions.”
Friday, Carlos Zambrano was the talk of The Cell, quite correctly. He struck out 12 Sox and limited the hosts to three hits over eight innings in improving to 8-6.
Buehrle, meanwhile, fell to 4-4 despite lowering his ERA to 3.39 after a seven-inning stint in which he allowed just four hits — two of those going for solo homers in the first inning and accounting for the only runs he gave up.
This, while suffering from “flu-like symptoms,” a Sox spokesman said, during the game. A dehydrated Buehrle left the ballpark without comment, though another gritty effort spoke volumes about why the Sox can ill afford to go into next season without him.
The Cubs would seem to be in the same boat with Zambrano, but with an ownership in flux and a pitcher straddling the line between brilliant and bonkers, you can almost excuse the stalled contract talks on the North Side.
The Sox have no such excuse. And while they might have sought to suspend talks in fear they might distract from a pennant race, they ought to realize Sox Nation could use all the distractions it can get at the moment.
As an organization, they believe in winning with pitching and within a budget. They can’t possibly believe they can get a pitching staff to be both better and cheaper without Buehrle.
To put it another way, if the Sox traded Buehrle for prospects, they’d end up either packaging those prospects with others to trade for a front-line starter, or hope to find a reasonably priced veteran on the free-agent market.
Why not just make a fair offer to Buehrle now? Why not figure, if Javier Vazquez is worth three years and $34.5 million — a deal he got in March — that Buehrle is worth four years and $60 million?
Frankly, $15 million a year is the right number for Buehrle. It would make him the highest-paid player on the team (by $1 million, over Jim Thome), which he deserves to be based on tenure and production. But it would leave him a bit short of top pitching money in the majors, which lacking a Cy Young or a 20-win season, he hasn’t earned.
A Sox source conceded Friday there has been an “ongoing dialogue” with Buehrle’s agent, Jeff Berry, but said those discussions could not be characterized as negotiations.
Again, why not? Because Williams is holding out hope for a “market correction” that would enable him to get Buehrle for less than the going rates established last year by Barry Zito’s seven-year, $126 million deal with San Francisco. And because Berry has made it clear he would like Buehrle to test the open market, leading to the decision to suspend negotiations during the season.
Of course, both sides like to leave the impression that it is the other camp which really prefers not to negotiate.
But if Buehrle, as he claims, truly wants to stay with the Sox, he should suggest they make him an offer now. If the Sox can resist the temptation to lowball him, they should take him up on the offer — and he may make it worth their while.
Reiterating sentiments Buehrle expressed last winter at Soxfest, the source confirmed Buehrle has not ruled out giving the Sox a hometown discount.
“That has been discussed (within the Buehrle camp),” the source said. “Mark wants to stay with the Sox.”
Buehrle shouldn’t need to squeeze every last dollar out of this opportunity to afford a lovely standard of living in Lemont, where he resides during the season. Nor should the Sox stick to what has been a blanket policy regarding pitchers’ contracts since the days of Jaime Navarro.
Buehrle is only 28 years old. He has a history of health and durability lacking in many pitchers who left the Sox in the recent past to find their fortunes elsewhere. He also helped bring Jerry Reinsdorf a World Series ring — and helped bring all those gate receipts into the park that should be going for something a little more exciting than Jose Contreras and Vazquez as your Nos. 1 and 2 starters in 2009.
“Be equitable for everyone,” the source said, “and everything will work out.”
It would be nice, in this season, if something did.
Phil Arvia can be reached at email@example.com or (708) 633-5949. Read his blog at http://blogs.dailysouthtown.com/arvia