BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – APRIL 23: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the top of the first inning during game one of the doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park on April 23, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
A positive update regarding the health of Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale’s ailing elbow has the lefty’s value trending in the right direction.
Chris Salewas damaged goods. The narrative building throughout the offseason was that the lanky lefty would never recover from the elbow inflammation that ended his 2019 season. The Boston Red Sox would be trapped under the weight of his albatross of a contract at a time when they are desperately seeking payroll relief. The days went by without any updates regarding Sale’s status, leaving fans to brace themselves for the worst.
It’s time we put those concerns to rest.According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Sale visited Dr. James Andrews for his long-anticipated follow-up appointment last month. The results of the examination were positive, giving Sale the green light to begin a throwing program with the intention of being ready for spring training.
The uncertainty of Sale’s status for next season had Red Sox fans on the verge of a panic attack. Dr. Andrews administered a PRP injection into Sale’s elbow back in August and the follow-up appointment was expected six weeks later.
When that didn’t happen, many began to wonder if the delay indicated a setback. Was Sale holding off on his next appointment hoping that more rest would help avoid a diagnosis that would lead to surgery? This was a no news is bad news situation and the longer we waited for an update, the more convinced we became that Sale would spend 2020 on the shelf.
As it turns out, the delay was simply a matter of the team being cautious. The initial six-week time frame was provided with the idea that Sale could return for the postseason if he was cleared by the doctor in his follow-up appointment. As the Red Sox slid out of the playoff hunt down the stretch, there was no longer a rush to get Sale checked out.
The additional rest should be good for Sale heading into next season. The Red Sox tried to ramp up their starting pitchers slowly last spring after they had pitched deep into October during their 2018 championship run. The plan backfired as those pitchers were clearly unprepared for the regular season.
We noticed right out of the gate that Sale wasn’t quite himself. He still struck out batters at an elite level but his control was off. His walk rate drifted above 2.0 BB/9 for the first time since 2012 and he allowed a career-high 1.5 HR/9. The result was an uncharacteristic 4.40 ERA in what was easily the worst year of his career before he was shut down in August.
The elbow soreness that sent him to the sidelines may have hindered his production leading up to his stint on the injured list but Sale’s season was derailed from the start with a light spring schedule. He needed more time to build up his velocity and find the command of his breaking ball. A normal offseason routine should get him back on track, which is why it’s so important that he’s been given the go-ahead to start throwing now.
The Red Sox are going to need Sale to regain his pre-2019 form if they have any hope of contending next season. Their tight budget leaves no wiggle room to replace him with a viable arm in the rotation if he struggles or can’t stay healthy. Getting the green light from Dr. Andrews provides hope that he’ll be ready to go on Opening Day and there’s little reason to believe he can’t return to form if that’s the case.
If Boston’s brass is indeed hellbent on dipping below the luxury tax threshold then dealing one of their high-priced starting pitchers could be the path to financial freedom. No team was touching Sale’s contract without knowing if he would be able to pitch next season. A clean bill of health will do wonders for his trade value.
It’s still unlikely he’ll be traded this winter before anyone sees him on a mound but a contract that once appeared unmovable might actually have some value in a trade, even if the Red Sox are forced to eat a portion of the $145 million remaining on his five-year extension.
While many of us will be holding our collective breaths until we finally see Sale take the mound this spring, only the worst pessimists among us will assume that the lefty is an injury-prone bust. Is he a bigger health risk than other pitchers? Perhaps, although all pitchers are health risks to some extent.
The key is that Sale is healthy now and should be ready to begin the 2020 season. Whether it’s anchoring the Red Sox rotation or as a payroll clearing trade chip, Sale’s value is undoubtedly on the rise.