Chris Sale underwent Tommy John surgery this week, putting him on track to return to Boston as early as midway through next season. That’s the second year of the $145 extension he signed prior to the 2019 season, a deal that, barring any opt-outs or Dodger bailouts, will keep Sale in Boston until 2025.
There some people who no longer think the extension was a good idea, or didn’t ever think it was a good idea, and these fans and analysts are having their moments in the sun, so to speak. Consider me in the shade, appropriately quarantined, because I do not agree with them.
Here are some reasons I think the Sale extension was fine-to-good and not worth worrying too much about, especially while there is no baseball:
a. The money doesn’t matter, and Mookie Betts wasn’t coming back
Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding about the extension, as I’ve understood it, is the idea that Sale’s contract is the driving force behind the Mookie Betts trade. Given Boston’s desire to get under the luxury tax, the argument goes, having both Sale and Betts tied-up long term was a bridge too far, but one would be fine.
This argument is woefully incomplete, though. First off, the Red Sox could afford both of them if they cared. Second, the Red Sox — and I think this is clear — were never prepared to offer Betts a long-term deal in the range he wanted, so it’s a false choice anyway. Third, compared with Betts’s desire to test the free agent market, Sale’s commitment to the team was paramount. He told them he wanted to be in Boston. Given that this is exactly what some fans wanted from Betts, it seems extremely strange to hold it against Sale.
b. The team isn’t worse off for it, because Chris Sale is good
If we can dismiss the far-fetched idea that the Red Sox were/are going to compete this year, it stands to reason that the best thing to do, going forward, would be to get Sale in working order. Provided he’s able to do that, the Red Sox will figure out exactly how to utilize whatever version of Sale they’re left with, but it is nearly certain to be a net positive for the team.
The best example I can think of here is Kevin Durant, who, of course, was signed by the Brooklyn Nets, albeit only for two years, coming off an ACL injury that takes a year-plus to heal. Given their gumby-like builds and incredible relative skill, there have always been fears neither could stand up to the rigors of two-decade careers, and in some ways, that’s been proven correct, given these injuries. The flip side of it is that they’ve also both shown that talent — real talent — transcends pretty much everything else in sports, and the value of having players of superior talent just in your organization, even on retainer, is worth the cost.
c. At the very least, it’s not an albatross. Just ask the Giants
The Giants’ “even year magic” run of titles from 2010-2014 were, in the early parts, supposedly laden by the onerous contract they gave Barry Zito to before the 2007 season, which almost immediately became a punchline for bad deals across the league. Never mind that in both 2010 and 2012 he put up a respectable if bland 4.15 ERA (as in, both seasons he landed right on it). Suffice to say Sale is a better player than Zito, despite the lack of a Cy Young Award. The umbrella point is that organizations can make “mistakes” as long as they don’t make mistakes, and there’s no way signing Chris friggin’ Sale is the latter.
d. In conclusion, it’s better that the Red Sox have Sale than a different team
Whenever the Sox compete for a World Series again, Sale will likely be in the middle of it. If they don’t, it’s not his fault. One player can’t lose it for it you. But they can win it. That’s why he’s here, and he’s already done it once. Don’t bet against it happening again, and don’t sweat the details.