On Monday, the Boston Red Sox placed left-handed pitcher Chris Sale on the 60-day injured list with a right rib stress fracture, ensuring he will not make his return until June 6 at the earliest. For Sale, the rib injury is the latest ailment in a series of injuries he has suffered since signing a five-year, $145 million extension with Boston in 2019. While Sale still has three years left on the deal, the contract extension is slowly becoming a headache for the Red Sox, in every way imaginable.
Cannot Stay on the Field
In August 2019, Sale suffered an elbow injury that ended his season. After trying to rehab the injury during the 2020 offseason, the Red Sox announced on March 20th that he would undergo Tommy John surgery, seven months after he was initially placed on the injured list. Sale finally returned on August 14 of the 2021 season, only to be placed on the Covid injured list less than a month later. Now, Sale is poised to miss the first two months of the 2022 season.
In the limited time that he has pitched, Sale has not inspired confidence. Yes, Sale did pitch to a 3.16 ERA last year over 42.2 innings. But, his strikeouts were down, walks were up, and he was ineffective down the stretch.
The quality of competition that Sale faced was significant, as Sale only faced playoff teams in two out of his nine starts. Both of those starts were against the division-leading Rays, and one of them included Sale only making it through 3.2 innings after being stoked to a 7-1 lead.
It is still entirely possible that Sale comes back from his rib injury and returns to being a true ace and top-10 pitcher in the game. But as of right now, it looks like Sale is merely a solid number-two starter: good, but not worth his pricey contract.
Unwilling to Take One for the Team
One of the factors that made Sale so endearing to Red Sox fans was his leadership in the clubhouse-his iconic tirade during World Series Game 4 sparked a memorable comeback that was pivotal in winning a championship.
But, recently Sale seems to be letting his teammates down. Sale confirmed that he remains unvaccinated, despite knowing that he will miss potentially up to three starts in Toronto because of it. Even as reluctant teammates like Kevin Plawecki, Xander Bogaerts, and Trevor Story made the decision to get the shot in order to help out the team, Sale seems willing to sacrifice critical division games for his personal decision.
Writing on the Wall
When Sale signed the extension in the 2019 offseason, he was coming off a season in which he put up a 2.11 earned-run average over 158 innings. He was arguably the best pitcher in the sport, and $29 million AAV seemed like a bargain compared to the other contracts that were being signed by top pitchers. However, the alarms were already sounding about Sale’s injury risk. In July 2018, Sale was placed on the IL with shoulder inflammation. After returning to make one start, he was placed back on the IL in August with the same injury. Despite throwing the championship-winning pitch for the Red Sox that season, Sale was clearly never the same, as he did not start Game 5 of the ALCS or World Series. Signing Sale to the extension without seeing how his arm responded in 2019 was a mistake, and it has only proven to be more costly as time goes on.
The Red Sox are the third most valuable franchise in the league, so they could still sign players to large contracts despite Sale’s albatross contract. But, given the Red Sox’s insistence on having financial flexibility following the 2019 season, there is reason to believe that signing Sale has affected many moves the team has made, whether it be trading Mookie Betts or choosing not to sign free-agent pitchers like Gerrit Cole. As it becomes more clear that a Rafael Devers extension is not going to happen before the start of the 2022 season, Sale seems to be actively hurting the team in nearly every way possible, without even playing.
If Sale returns in June and becomes the true ace the Red Sox are missing at the top of their rotation, the contract might end up turning itself around, similar to how Nathan Eovaldi’s stellar 2021 completely reframed opinions of his contract. But, as of right now, the Sale extension belongs next to Pablo Sandoval and Carl Crawford in terms of worst Red Sox signings-and that’s a place nobody wants to be.
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