I am a Chris Sale doomer. I can’t shake the feeling that his career will continue to be slowed by injuries in 2023 and in the years to come, and that any flashes of his singular brilliance will be matched by days on the DL. I wish I had Dan’s confidence that Sale will make it through 2023 in one piece, but I just can’t get there. If I bet more than pennies at a time on sports outcomes, I’d bet on Sale not getting to 150 innings this year without much thought.
On yesterday’s Fenway Rundown podcast for MassLive, Chrises Cotillo and Smith debated who is the second-best player on this year’s Red Sox team behind Rafael Devers. Cotillo said Garrett Whitlock, whereas Smith struggled with the thought exercise and said that Alex Verdugo, if everything broke right, could get there.
Both of these answers would make sense if the question was “Who will have the second-best season on the 2023 Red Sox?” because that question elides the fact that Sale is plainly the second-best player on the team, if only as a matter of semantics. I think Whitlock does in fact have a good chance to have the second-best 2023 of any Red Sox player, as does Masataka Yoshida, but... Sale is plainly the second-best player on the team.
This is less about what I consider an errant linguistic choice by Cotillo than reminding everyone that Sale is still all-time great pitcher. The quality of his stuff is virtually never in doubt. If he pitches, he’s good-to-transcendent enough that, with Justin Verlander in the National League, there’s an argument that in the miraculous event Sale gets to 200 innings, he would necessarily be the Cy Young Award frontrunner, or at least firmly in the top tier. I don’t think the same is true of Whitlock, but I think it’s true for probably fewer than 7 or so players in baseball.
It’s not merely that the quality Sale’s stuff has never been an issue. It’s that the quality of his stuff is iconic; he’s in the top 1 percent of players of all-time in terms of raw skill and, despite basically three years away from the majors, he’s still only 34. It doesn’t look like there’s more meat on the bone — pardon the analogy — but Sale is certainly young enough to have a late-career renaissance, as unlikely as it looks right now. My expectations are low, but until he can’t pitch like Chris Sale, he’s plainly, at worst, the second best player on the team heading into 2023. IMHO.