Dissecting this uncomfortable Chris Sale conversation

Rob Bradford
August 18, 2019 - 8:00 am

This is what we know when it comes to Chris Sale ...

- He is on the 10-day injured list with left elbow inflammation.

- He didn't notify the Red Sox of the discomfort until Friday, with the belief that the issue didn't exist prior to Tuesday's outing.

"I mean there's no question this happened Tuesday," noted Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "Because when they read the MRI they can tell where the inflammation is, they can tell this was something that took place, that they can identify. So this was not something that's been bothering him all season long. It's also a situation where we've worked with some stuff on mechanical issues more so with him, and you can see he's been throwing the ball well the last couple times out in particular. Early in the season was not like that. We looked at the more mechanical type of issues and then once we worked with him on that he's thrown the extremely well. We look at it more from that perspective than we do from injury."

- While there is no scheduled appointment to visit Dr. James Andrews the physician is slated to look at Sale's MRI.

- Like everyone else, the Red Sox are waiting for what is next.

"It’s always tough. We’ve got to keep going," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora after his team's 4-0 win over the Orioles Saturday night. "That’s the way it is. We’ll find out more in the upcoming days. As of now, somebody has to step up. That’s the way it works in this business and we know it. We’ll see what happens in the upcoming days and we’ll go from there. As of now, he’s on the IL and we’ll figure out the next few days how we’re going to go about it."

OK.

But what this also does is allow for a closer look at how we got here.

Fair or not, the conversation with Sale's existence with the Red Sox has broadened. The five-year, $145 million extension he agreed to during spring training along with the cause of this latest physical hiccup are both going to be put under the microscope once again ... and they should be. Maybe up until Saturday afternoon we were poo-pooing both issues thanks to the latest image portrayed by the lefty. But we can't do that now.

Let's start with the long-term commitment given to Sale.

There wasn't any mystery to what drove the Red Sox to prioritize inking the ace. Red Sox principal owner John Henry tipped his hand during spring training when admitting he thought the team "blew" the Jon Lester negotiations when that lefty was heading into his contract year in 2014, and Henry was intent on not letting it happen again. Hence, the aggressive move on Sale.

The issue here is that even with all the admirable qualities Sale brought to the table there was the reality that he was coming off a season that included a shoulder issue. Clearly, everything checked out from the medical side of things before pen was put to paper, but there wasn't any hard proof that the same pitcher was going to emerge from the discombobulated 2018 season. Simply put they hadn't seen this version of Sale pitch.

The Red Sox were clearly ready to push aside any risks or doubts to prioritize not allowing Sale to hit free agency and potentially lose the tippity-top of their rotation. But here's the problem: He was never going to get that point. How do we know? Sale said so.

"I was going to great lengths to not make that happen, for multiple reasons," he told WEEI.com in early July regarding the prospect of performing in the final year of a contract. "Whatever team am I going to play for that gives me what I truly want in life and in baseball? I get to live in my house in spring training. I get to take my son to school. Watch his games. See my kids grow up. Sleep in my own bed. Be with my family for basically 2 1/2 extra months. I get to play in Boston for a team that is going to perennially make a run for it and if it isn’t it is going to be a quick fix. What else could you ask for? There are certain situations that I just would not have gone into. There are certain teams that I just knew it wasn’t going to happen The funnel gets smaller and smaller. It’s either this team, that team or this team. And you start thinking, ’No, I like it here. I have my roots here. I want to be here.’

"I’ve said it my entire career, I’m not a businessman. I hate the business aspect of baseball. I’ve played this game since before I can remember. My first memory of baseball was years after I started playing. It was never a driving force. I wanted to become a Major League Baseball player because I wanted to become Major League Baseball player. Not for fame or fortune or whatever. It just suits me better. I have an agent that takes care of all of that and financial people who do all the different stuff and that allows me to just go out and play baseball. If I’m sitting there in the fourth inning thinking about a 2-2 pitch and thinking if I don’t do this or that … That’s no way to play baseball. I grab the ball, I throw it until they take it from me and I compete as hard as I can in between and whatever happens, happens."

In other words, the prudent approach would have probably been to wait for a bit more evidence the Red Sox knew what they were signing up for.

That brings us to the actual injury.

As Dombrowski stated, there was no evidence this elbow issue was a thing until the last few days. All we had when it came to Sale was the shoulder ailment of a year ago, and that was seemingly a thing of the past. When it came to his struggles throughout this season health was never surfaced as a reason.

In terms of longevity and avoiding injuries, however, Sale was very clear in his beliefs. It didn't matter how unorthodox the means of delivering the ball might be, as long as the pitcher was consistent in his approach long-term concern should be tempered. 

"For me, I don’t think it’s mechanics. I think it’s consistency," Sale explained to WEE.com in early March. "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."

That brings us to what has transpired this season.

Everything has been different, which was the perceived reason for the up and down results. There has been tweaking here and tweaking there, ultimately finally getting to the point where the old Chris Sale was uncovered. But leading into that point the pitcher will be the first to tell you things were slightly askew. And that, as he pointed out, is when the door is open to injuries.

Sure, it seems like second-guessing when it comes to Sale's contract and there is no way to prove the cause of this latest injury. But there are clues. Powerful ones. And when you have a player of this importance enter into these kinds of conversations, no stone should be left unturned.

What we found should only add to the uneasiness.