This past weekend, rumors began to swirl regarding Chris Sale’s future as a Boston Red Sox. The left-hander has been among the game’s pitchers since he broke into the league in 2010, but injuries have kept him out for extended periods of time over the last three seasons. With Boston in an apparent rebuild, does it make sense for the Sox to deal the team’s vaunted ace? Perhaps, but this might not be the right time.
A Look at Sale
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Chris Sale on a regular basis. Sale has logged just 48.1 innings over the past two seasons, as the left-hander spent all of 2020 and most of the following season on the IL after Tommy John surgery. The 33-year-old came back late in 2021, and provided a much-needed boost for the Red Sox in the process. Sale posted a 3.16 ERA across nine regular season starts in ’21, before a mixed bag of a postseason.
Last season, a myriad of injuries held Sale to just 5.2 innings. Injuries have been the theme for the star left-hander over the past three seasons, but it’s hard to deny what Sale can do when he’s healthy. At this best, Sale offers a hard fastball, coupled with a filthy slider that’s extremely tough to pick up, and a changeup.
Velocity, or lack therof, was something of concern in both 2019 & 2021. When Boston won the World Series in 2018, Sale’s fastball velocity routinely sat in the mid-90’s. That dropped down in 2019 (93.4), and again in 2021 (93.6) when Sale returned from the IL. In the seven-time All-Star’s brief return last season, his velocity returned to near-normal numbers (94.5).
The Red Sox and the Rotation
Jon Heyman from the New York Post noted that as of now, the Red Sox are not looking to trade any of its starters at the moment. However, Boston is listening, including on Sale.
Sale has two years left on his current deal, as well as $20 million vesting option for 2025. A healthy Sale would be a boon for any competitive team, as very few pitchers can match the stuff that the left-hander possesses. On the other hand, a Sale trade would leave the Sox’s rotation in a very precarious state.
Boston lost three of the team’s 2022 starters (Rich Hill, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha) to free agency. Hill won’t return, as the left-hander appears to be joining the Pirates next season. Wacha pitched well after two rough seasons, as did Eovaldi when healthy. Although it is possible that at least one of the two returns for 2023, it’s not a given.
As of now, Boston’s starter options include Nick Pivetta, Josh Winckowski, James Paxton, Brayan Bello, and starter/relievers Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock. Additionally, prospects Chris Murphy and Bryan Mata could see their first taste of the Majors in 2023. While several of these names could be building blocks for the Sox’s future, many have also yet to have success starting at the MLB level.
Boston possesses a number of young arms that, to a certain extent, provide depth for a Red Sox group that appears to be in a state of transition after a number of high-profile exits in recent years. If Boston is dead-set on a rebuild, a Sale deal at some point in 2023 does make sense. However, would Boston get fair value for a pitcher that has missed so much time over the past three seasons? It does help that some of Sale’s injuries were fluke in nature, particularly the wrist injury sustained in a biking accident. Nonetheless, the issues of Sale’s past are a cause of concern.
In the interim, it makes more sense for the Sox to hold on to Sale. It’s hard to imagine that a team would be willing to blow away Boston in any potential deals for Sale. If the 33-year-old looks like his old self from 2018, his trade value should jump. Not to mention, it would allow Boston to buy time for some of the team’s young and unproven arms, and to decide on the team’s long-term future.