Chris Sale deal opens door to questions for Red Sox

Rob Bradford
March 24, 2019 - 8:00 am

It's difficult to take issue with the Chris Sale contract, from either side.

For the Red Sox, it is the proof in their pudding that lessons were learned from botching the Jon Lester deal back in 2014. You need an ace, an anchor. Their pursuit of such an item since the departure of Lester took the Sox to the five aces (Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello Justin Masteron) before allocating $217 million (David Price) to the piece of the puzzle.

Finally, they got it right. Chris Sale. They hit the sweet spot. So there was really no need to get fancy and change course once again, especially with a deal that was going to be two (and potentially three) years shorter what Price reeled in. The top free agent starter pitcher on this market was Patrick Corbin, who signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Nationals. OK, it's not was the Sox lefty got. But to think that Sale's deal would land a whole lot closer to Corbin's financials than Max Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million deal simply didn't seem realistic, messed-up market or no.

It's a good deal for the Red Sox. And the same thing could be said from the pitcher's point of view. He wanted to sign with this team, but do so while being treated fair enough that the next wave of free agent top-of-the-rotation pitchers wouldn't pay the price. Both were accomplished.

"I think if you look at this as a whole from both sides, I think anyways it’s pretty fair for both sides," Sale said. "I think anyways. That’s why I signed it. for me, the best possible deal wasn’t the most money, right? That is for some people and I respect it. I actually would tell people to do that. Hey, go to free agency, maximize your opportunities, get everything you can. We have a very small window as athletes in any sport to maximize our opportunity because we can’t do this for 30 years. But for me leaving at my house for two extra months, picking my son up from school, I’ve made it to all of his practices for little league. He has 14 games, I’ve been able to see six of them. I was supposed to be able to see the one today but I got pushed back so I’ve got to pitch. We’re going to pitch on the same day, so that’s pretty cool. I have two sons and got another baby coming so I want to be around my family. I want to be down here. This is where I live, this is where I went to school, this is where I’ve kind of established my life. For me, that’s the best possible deal. In terms of money, it is what it is."

But just because the agreement seems logical for both sides doesn't mean there aren't things to pick through when it comes to what all of this might mean. For instance ...

ABOUT THAT OPT-OUT

Sale has one after the 2022 season, not-so-coincidentally after the current CBA has expired.

"That’s more my agent’s doing," said Sale, whose five-year extension doesn't kick in until the 2020 campaign. "I don’t know a whole lot about that but I believe it’s also when the new collective bargaining agreement is up as well which from a business sense, I think is good. I mean, hey man, I just signed it. Don’t talk about me leaving already."

Opt-outs are often times mistakenly identified as solely to the advantage of the player. That is certainly why they are set up. But this can absolutely be a positive for the team, as well.

Sale will have pitched for four seasons by the time this decision will be made, living life as a mid-30's starting pitcher in line to make $27.5 million in each of the final guaranteed years of his contract. Perhaps it will be an uncomfortable situation for the Red Sox, who might be still desperate for the pitcher's services. But maybe not. Either way, it gives the Sox four years to figure out an exit strategy.

More times than not, if the players are performing at a decent level they err on the side of finding more money in the open market or use the opt-out for leverage for a new deal. Price didn't do either for an obvious reason: Can you imagine what the 33-year-old would have gotten in this market? It certainly wouldn't have come close to his payday with the Red Sox. But Clayton Kershaw? He was the latest to use that opt-out to siphon an extra year despite a downturn in performance.

Oh, and regarding that exit strategy.

The contracts of Price and Nathan Eovaldi also expire after the 2022 season, with Eduardo Rodriguez under control until after 2021. Along with the Sale situation, these existences put the Red Sox' feet to the fire. The time is coming to find out if this new philosophy in developing young pitching is going to take root.

Darwinzon Hernandez looks to be a very real option when it comes to banking on a starting pitching prospect, but there is still a long way to go. After Hernandez? Jay Groome has pitched in 17 professional games since being taken in the 2016 draft and is currently coming back from Tommy John surgery. Another first-rounder Tanner Houck showed some progress after altering his approach, and then altering it again in Single-A, but wasn't exactly dominant on the way to a 4.24 ERA. Bryan Mata is 19 years old and shows promise, but ... Bryan Mata is 19 years old and shows promise.

The Red Sox have bought themselves some time, how much has yet to be determined.

WILL SALE HOLD UP?

It didn't take long for a caller on WEEI to suggest that Sale need to change his regimen and prioritize putting on 20-30 pounds of muscle. More protein shakes!!!! Nope. 

Sale is what he is. He is tall and lanky and slim and throws in a somewhat bizarre manner. Live with it. The Red Sox are ready to.

The good news is that even though the 6-foot-6, pitcher, who is listed at 180 pounds, does indeed workout more than most. He's not maxing-out on the bench press, but there is a lot of work going on, which is all anyone can ask. It's a best-case scenario for Sale, and also the kind of example you would want from your ace in order to show those youngsters coming up behind him.

Guessing if Sale is built for the long-haul is a dicey proposition. It's why projecting a Price-like seven-year deal was always uncomfortable. But when asked about his shelf life early in spring training the pitcher offered an interesting, and fairly convincing, take on the reality of pitching longevity.

"It has worked. I’ve been able to use it. For me, I don’t think it’s mechanics. I think it’s consistency," Sale explained to WEEI.com . "You can have a guy that throws over the top but if he’s not repeating his mechanics over and over he’s going to get hurt. Pitching from three different slots. The front-side is bailing out. Legs aren’t strong. You don’t have a good core. I don’t care what kind of mechanics you have, you’re not going to last. You’re not going to have sustainable success.

"We have guys who throw from here, here and down here and they’ve all proven to be successful. The more you can repeat whatever you’re doing … Walking. If you start walking different you’re going to have knee problems. But if you walk the same way over and over and over you’re going to be fine. So I always focused on what I do as opposed to doing something different that may or may not be beneficial."

Sale added, "If you look at those guys work out in the offseason, all those guys get after it," he noted. "Obviously you’re not going to be 55 or 60 years old and still throwing a 95 mph baseball no matter how hard you work. But, shoot, Nolan Ryan was 45 throwing 98. There are two things: Repeating your mechanics and hard work. There is nothing you can do instead that is going to get you the same result.

"Just repeating it over and over. That's it."

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE OTHER FREE AGENTS

It's time to reset the Red Sox' free-agents-to-be power rankings.

This really has little impact on Mookie Betts. Those trying to juxtapose Sale's willingness to take slightly less to stay in Boston with Betts' proclamation that he was most likely going to eventually hit free agency are missing the point. Betts' mantra has been that he wants to be treated fairly. That doesn't necessarily mean getting the largest contract of all-time. It probably will result in something close, but being "treated fairly" shouldn't be equated with greed because you know what? Sale probably had the same goal. He wanted to be treated fairly and in his mind he was. Not apples to apples.

After Sale and Betts it sure seems like the Red Sox' priority was to lock up Xander Bogaerts. The way things are shaking out, that might be a tough one.

Bogaerts is trending toward becoming the highest-paid position player in the open market after this season thanks to extensions signed by Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. Anthony Rendon is still in play, but the Nationals sure seem motivated not lose another foundation position player. And if Rendon does take himself off the board that will leave an interesting dynamic when it comes to the money the Yankees have to spend on the left side of their infield. (Shortstops Didi Gregorius and Troy Tulowitzki are both in the final years of their contracts.) And for what it's worth, Rendon and Bogaerts share the same agent, one Mr. Scott Boras.

J.D. Martinez? He told WEEI.com last week there has been no talks with the Red Sox regarding reworking his current deal that will allow him to opt-out after this season. The guess here is as valuable as Martinez is both on and off the field, the Sox are banking on the slugger being scared off by the current free agent landscape, especially after a younger Goldschmidt jumped at his five-year, $130 million deal. Is the Sox slugger going to make more than the $23.75 million he is hauling in for 2019? No guarantees. Where it gets interesting is that opt-out after 2020 because the annual number for the final two years of the deal drops to below $20 million.

And then there is Rick Porcello.

He would seem to be a good investment, representing the kind of consistency and leadership that a team should prioritize. Of all the starters the Red Sox are banking on, Porcello offers perhaps the most certainty due to age, pitching-style and health history. But the Red Sox might look at the righty has too much of a luxury item, pointing to that spot in the rotation as where they start developing the Hernandez's of the world after 2019.

But maybe the Red Sox have come around to the idea that having all these guys under contract for the foreseeable future might not be a bad idea./

"I think if you look at the overall winning style I think it starts with starting pitching and like he said we’ve got some horses in this rotation and I think that’s a plus," Sale said. "That is a big step in the right direction for winning. And like I said, I like to win. Last year was awesome and I want to keep doing that. And he said we’ve got four starting pitchers the foreseeable future and we’ve got a fifth one we’d like to keep around, too ..."

"Sure, no question," Dave Dombrowski interjected.

"... We all push each other. We all want to be better and I think they’re all here, I think that shows a lot. I know Rick just left, but that shows what we have here. We’re all never going to be satisfied with anything. We’re all going to keep pushing and trying to gain ground and especially from established guys you don’t see that very often, you know. That’s a special thing to have and a very special trait to have and I think going forward I like where we’re at."

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