Futures of Buehrle, Danks in holding pattern
Sox may keep both valuable lefties, though one could go
CHICAGO -- Trying to replace elite starting pitchers such as Mark Buehrle and John Danks would not be an easy task for the White Sox.
In 2011 alone, this left-handed duo combined for 58 starts, 38 quality starts, 21 victories, 375 2/3 innings and a 3.93 ERA, even in a down year for Danks. The White Sox finished at 79-83, but posted a 31-27 mark when these two hurlers were on the mound.
Let's not forget this duo's pregame commitment, either.
For every ceremonial first pitch, whether it's a celebrity or local friend of the White Sox, there's Buehrle sitting behind home plate ready to take the toss at U.S. Cellular Field. And if Buehrle is pitching on that particular day, then the job falls to Danks.
It's certainly not the most important duty performed by the 32-year-old Buehrle and the 26-year-old Danks. This extra on-field activity simply points up the enjoyment with which they approach the game, making their value just as high in the clubhouse as on the mound.
Nothing mentioned above stands out as breaking news for Buehrle or Danks in regard to their ability or character. The White Sox maintain control of Danks, entering his last year of arbitration eligibility, while Buehrle figures to be one of the top two or three pitchers on the open market in his first free-agent foray.
As the Rangers and Cardinals battle for Major League Baseball's top prize, the White Sox remain in a holding pattern. In what looks to be a cost-cutting offseason, a two- or three-year return for Buehrle could mean a trade involving a highly valued Danks, who earned $6 million in 2011, before he reaches 2013 free agency.
If Buehrle moves on to another contender, then the White Sox could revisit a multiyear extension with Danks. There's a possibility Buehrle and Danks could be part of the same White Sox rotation moving forward, even with fellow southpaw Chris Sale becoming a starter, as the franchise understands the importance of having quality starting pitching locked down. Keeping both could facilitate the move of Gavin Floyd, entering his last season of a four-year, $15.5-million deal. Then again, nothing is certain at this point.
Losing Danks and Buehrle seems unlikely. But as general manager Kenny Williams mentioned at manager Robin Ventura's introductory news conference, the team might have to sit back and survey the baseball landscape before deciding its direction. Danks, in turn, isn't going to get caught up in offseason talk, especially at this early October stage.
"There's interest in what's going to happen, but I'm not getting bent out of shape about it," Danks said. "I don't know what Kenny is doing right now.
"For all I know, he's watching his son [Kyle] in the NFL [wide receiver with the 49ers]. I would be. It isn't time for [speculation]. It's one of those things where I've always said I try not to worry about things I can't control. During this whole offseason, whatever happens, happens. Just let it play out."
Buehrle finished off his 11th straight season with at last 200 innings, 30 starts made and double-digit victories recorded by throwing seven scoreless innings and beating Toronto at home on Sept. 27. With his 13-9 record and 3.59 ERA intact, Buehrle was back behind the plate to catch the ceremonial first pitches for the next day's season finale.
Walls full of pictures featuring the more famous of these first pitches sit just outside the Conference and Learning Center at U.S. Cellular Field, and Buehrle is in many of them. There's Buehrle with WWE superstar "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Bears legend Dick Butkus, Justin Bieber and members of the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup championship squad. Buehrle even caught a pitch from a baby T-Rex in August 2008.
"Yeah, that wasn't too much fun," said Buehrle with a laugh of the T-Rex toss, during an interview before the end of the 2011 season. "The dress-up ones aren't any fun.
"Some of the actors and famous people, I don't even know who they are. People say, 'Oh, it's this person.' And I think, 'Oh, cool.' I love getting a picture and putting it up on my wall in my man cave and have all the memories and say I met all those people.
"When you are young and as a rookie, you kind of go out there and do it because nobody else wants to do it. I just kept on doing it. It takes two minutes out of your day. I got to meet a lot of interesting people and famous people. It was pretty cool."
Many of those celebrities wouldn't be considered as famous as a pitcher with a no-hitter and perfect game, not to mention a World Series start and World Series save in back-to-back 2005 games. Buehrle also has an easygoing disposition, making him a breeze to manage and accessible to younger players.
He never gets too full of his accomplishments. When Buehrle was asked at season's end about how many good years he had left, he smiled and said, "probably zero."
"I'll try to trick them," said Buehrle, before adding he felt great.
"You know what? I stopped worrying about what Mark says 10 years ago," said Jeff Berry, Buehrle's longtime representative. "Half the time he's joking around. He's about as honest as they come and self-deprecating."
Berry also represents Danks, so it promises to be a busy period of negotiations with the White Sox. Buehrle and Danks have spoken of a desire to stay with the team, but it might take a month or two before it's decided if they both return or there are crucial roster vacancies and leadership roles to fill.