Boston sports fans might as well turn the calendar to 2021. The Red Sox traded Mookie Betts for cents on the dollar. Tom Brady broke up with the only franchise he’s ever known. And now, Chris Sale is out for the season before it even began.
The Red Sox were already expected to take a step back in the wake of the Betts trade. Perhaps the one glimmering light of hope laid on the left arm of their Cy Young-caliber starting pitcher. Yet, Sale’s continued battle with injuries reared its ugly head Wednesday.
Ironically, a franchise that didn’t want to pay homegrown star Jon Lester will be on the hook for a very expensive contract for a pitcher with far more durability issues. And while Sale has been dominant in stretches, his latest injury and subsequent season-ending surgery makes his $145 million contract look like a massive mistake.
Red Sox traded top prospects to land Chris Sale in 2016
Before he arrived in Boston, Sale had established a reputation as one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. The 6-foot-6, 180-pounder began his career with the Chicago White Sox, where he emerged as a star by his third season. From 2012-2016, Sale made 148 starts and won nearly 60 percent of them. The flame-throwing lefty led the league in strikeouts in 2015 and followed up with another strong 2016 campaign (17-10, 3.34 ERA).
In need of a new ace, the Red Sox ponied up premium prospects to land a pitcher in his prime. Boston traded three of its top-10 prospects, including power-hitting outfielder Yoan Moncada and hard-throwing pitcher Michael Kopech. At the time, it felt like a win-win for both teams. Boston secured its new No. 1 starter and Chicago received a package built around two high-upside prospects.
Red Sox signed Sale to $145 million extension despite injury concerns
Sale kicked off his Red Sox career in extraordinary fashion. He started 32 games and went 17-8. He led the majors in strikeouts (308) and innings pitched (214.1) and finished second in the Cy Young vote.
In 2018, Sale once again looked like the pitcher Boston dreamed for…until injuries struck. The southpaw got off to a roaring start and appeared to be the favorite to take home his first Cy Young award. Yet, by the time the postseason rolled around, Sale’s velocity, control and stamina were compromised. He did step up in a relief role in Boston’s World Series run.
Despite concerns about his throwing shoulder, the Red Sox signed Sale to a $145 million extension in March 2019. It didn’t take long for fans and media to question the investment. Sale couldn’t stay healthy and posted the worst season of his 10-year career. He posted a 6-11 record, 4.40 ERA and failed to finish in the top-five in Cy Young voting for the first time since 2012.
Tommy John surgery will keep Sale sidelined until 2021
This spring, all eyes were on Sale’s ailing left elbow. Despite speculation that he could have surgery in the offseason, he did not. Ultimately, that decision looks like a colossal miscalculation.
The team formally announced that Sale will undergo Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. That news stings even harder considering this is the first year of Sale’s mega extension.
With the coronavirus pandemic pushing back the start of the MLB season, Sale and the Red Sox will have to look ahead to 2021. The odds of him shaking his durability concerns seem lower than ever. Sale does have an opt-out clause in his contract that he can exercise after the 2022 season.
But by then, who knows if he’ll even be on the mound.