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The duality of the Chris Sale contract

He’s gone from symbol of what Dave Dombrowski did right to what he did wrong. But he’s still Chris Sale.

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Boston Red Sox Spring Training
Still great.
Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

I will not say anything bad about Chris Sale. He wants to absolutely rip Major League Baseball’s best hitters to shreds as a member of the Boston Red Sox, and in this we are aligned. I would also like him to do that. It would be nice.

Nor will I say anything bad about Chris Sale’s contract, which has been the subject of ridicule in recent days as the lefty was transferred to the 60-day injured list. From where I’m sitting, it was the cost of doing business the Dave Dombrowski way, something that ultimately got him fired and Mookie Betts shipped out of town, albeit after the best season in Red Sox history, which Sale finished with a flourish.

Life is complicated. He’s still the best example of what Dave Dombrowski did right but he’s also, to some people, an example of Dombrowski at his worst. I am not concerned about the money, and this time it’s less about John Henry’s bank statements than about the reasoning behind giving Chris Sale $145 million dollars.

That reasoning was, of course, largely that he was Chris Sale, but some of that money was, I think, understood to be a post-facto World Series bonus. Which sounds bad, but is frankly the same thing that happened with Nathan Eovaldi, who’s been worth every dollar he’s earned and more and has taken Sale’s spot on the staff and run with it.

That’s why Eovaldi will again be on the mound Friday for the opener, while Sale again starts on the IL. Last year, the hope that Sale would come back mid-season to dominate didn’t seem so far-fetched. This year it seems less far-fetched than it seems impossible. We’ve seen pitchers age poorly before, and none of them were built like Sale, who’s as thin as a scissor blade. It is hard not to see the Sale experiment as spiraling out of control as the rest of the organization finally begins to find some balance after a raucous three years.

You don’t have to look too hard at what Chaim Bloom has done to understand his philosophy toward team-building — specifically, collecting pitchers — is greatly at odds with the Sale contract. He likes to shop in the bargain bin and build through the draft, with the likely idea that they’ll eventually complement each other. (Right now, it’s heavier on free agents just because draft picks take so long to mature). The Sale deal is plainly an example of one he’d never sign.

Nor do I think Bloom will trade Sale, because I’m not sure they could get enough in return, given Sale’s salary, that it would make any sense to do, given that the team figures to fight for the wild card all season. He’s just a sunk cost, the price of which goes up by the day.

Which is sad. It’s never going to be like it was, and we all know it. Whatever we get when he comes back is going to be a muted version of the man in his furious excellence. He’ll still be mad, of course, but likely at himself that with which he’s comfortable or we can bear without being sad.

But.

If he comes back, and we need one inning to win it all, and he’s available, he’s probably still the guy. Because he’s Chris Sale. And that’s what’s up.