Will Mark Buehrle Come Home?

Photo by Jared Wickerham

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since Juan Uribe fielded that ground ball in Houston and fired it across the infield to Paul Konerko. It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since that magical ending to that magical season in 2005.

But as those memories become more distant with every passing year, wouldn’t it be a sight for sore eyes to see one of the most beloved players in franchise history – who was an integral part of that 2005 team – don the black pinstripes just one more time? Especially, with a great chance of helping the team’s playoff chances?

Before I go on, I will make it clear that even though I am going to sound like I am a huge fan of PR acquisitions, that I am really quite the opposite. I don’t support these type of moves for the simple fact that most of them don’t work out. To name a few:

  • Roger Clemens’ return to the Yankees
  • Ken Griffey’s return to the Mariners
  • Kerry Wood’s return to the Cubs
  • Barry Zito’s return to the A’s

Ok, Twins fans. I hear you. Torii Hunter was an exception this year. But the bottom line is that PR moves are made with a greater interest in gaining publicity than strengthening the team’s roster. Hell, we can even add the Sox decision to keep Konerko around in 2014 for one last hurrah to this list.

But what if a PR move could be the best of both worlds by benefiting the state of the fan base and the team’s current roster?

What if there was a player out there who went 15-8 last season with a 3.81 in ERA and a 1.5 BB/9 ratio?

What if said player would also certainly increase ticket sales and fan interest?

Well, there is such a player, and his name is Mark Buehrle.

Buehrle last pitched for the Sox in 2011 when he went 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA. The Sox were faced with a decision at the end of the 2011 season, a decision that they made incorrectly. They had the option to re-sign the 32-year-old Buehrle, coming off a typical “Buehrle season” that featured double-digit wins, an ERA in the 3s, and 200 innings pitched; or, they had the option to re-sign the 26-year-old John Danks, coming off an 8-12 season with a 4.33 ERA. The Sox opted for the latter, as they were heavily influenced by the speculation that Buehrle was aging and Danks was entering his prime.

But four years later, Father Time still hasn’t taken its toll on Buehrle, who just completed his age 36 season. His W-L% of .652 was the second best of his 16-year career, and his BB/9 ratio was his best since… you guessed it, 2005.

Danks has been the polar opposite of Buehrle since 2011 – unsuccessful and unreliable. Danks has gone 25-44 with a 4.82 in four seasons since signing that massive contract.

So where would Buehrle fit in on the 2016 White Sox? If you’re hoping for Buehrle to return, then the bad news is that the Sox already have three established left-handed starters at the top of the rotation in Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon. Furthermore, that Danks fellow still has one more season left on his contract, and he’s slated to earn $15.75 million in 2016.

Therefore, we have this conclusion – unless the Sox trade one of the four pitchers mentioned above this winter, Mark Buehrle will probably not return to the South Side in 2016.

First and foremost, Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon aren’t going anywhere. So either Danks or Quintana would need to be shipped out of town to bring back Buehrle. The best-case trade option is obviously Danks, but General Manager Rick Hahn will need more than a good sales pitch to convince another team to pay $15.75 million for a pitcher who just went 7-15 with a 4.71 ERA last season. The most realistic trade option is Quintana, considering he is just 26 years old, he is locked up through 2018 at a very affordable price, and he has been the definition of consitency over his four-year career with the Sox. All of those factors could make him very appealing in the trade market should the Sox decide to shop him around.

Taking into consideration that the Sox haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, haven’t had a winning season since 2012, and the crosstown rival Cubs are taking over the city, the Sox fan presence is basically on life support. U.S. Cellular Field no longer has a competitive edge. Remember the “Black Out Game” in 2008 when the sellout crowd draped themselves in black for the one-game playoff between the Sox and Twins for the AL Central division title? The atmosphere at the ballpark was electric that night.

The Sox don’t have that type of fan support any more, especially not at U.S. Cellular Field. I’m not saying that Buehrle’s name on the roster would result in a sellout every game, but it would give fans another reason to come to the ballpark on days other than when Chris Sale toes the rubber. And at the very least, Buehrle’s name on the roster would reignite some of the Sox fans who are beginning to lose their fire about the team.

If you’re a “glass half-full” person about Buehrle returning to the Sox, then I would like to remind you of this quote made by Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf in 2012:

“The only thing I can tell you is when Mark told me he had a $56 million, four-year contract offer (from the Miami Marlins in 2012), I told him he should take it. He said he was going to take it, but he’ll be back in four years.”

Also, it is more than just a coincidence that the Sox are yet to re-issue the number 56 since Buehrle’s departure in 2011?

We will find out in the next few months. Buckle up, Sox fans.