The Boston Red Sox Chris Sale will be an “opener” for a few starts to see if his shoulder is solid. Could Sale also be a closer in 2019?
Do you actually take one of the finest starters in all of baseball and make them a closer? Just how important is that role? In baseball, circa 2018, the emphasis is on the bullpen and build from the back down. The Kansas City Royals in 2015 won a World Series with arguably the most disastrous collection of starters of any championship team.
The issue with Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale is wear and tear. This season, two visits to the disabled list for what amounted to a tired shoulder with no apparent structural damage. Sale is nearing 1,500 innings in his seven seasons as a starter, but originally he was in the bullpen. In his first two White Sox seasons, the mercurial lefty appeared in 79 games all in relief with 12 saves. So the could he do it is justified, but is the would he?
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A starter, despite the predominance of bullpen buildups, is still considered something special if you have the talent. Sale is that rare commodity known as an “Ace” and has been one for several seasons. This most certainly becomes both an ego and monetary issue. Sale stands to make far more money as a starter just based on what they get compensated in comparison to élite bullpen performers.
Aroldis Chapman gets $17.2 million from the New York Yankees and is the highest paid closer in baseball. For Sale, one would assume his contract – if healthy – when he becomes a free agent would be quite like that of David Price. Price’s deal is seven years for $217 million with an opt-out available, so that could be a template for Sale, but then comes health.
Staying in one piece over the life of a long-term contract is often the proverbial crap shoot for starters. Back to the trials and tribulations of Price as an example. That, of course, brings into play if the wear and tear are greater on a starter or closer. I would side with starter since it is inning and pitch accumulation. Chapman has never tossed more than 71.1 innings – Sale can do that in six weeks.
We may actually get a potential preview of Sale in the bullpen this season and did even last season. If Sale is not able to assume a full workload he may follow in the cleat-steps of Price who fulfilled a similar role in the 2017 playoffs. Even Sale made a 2017 appearance out of the ‘pen in the Houston series.
The Red Sox are certainly familiar with a pitcher changing roles and that means Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley was a sidearming righty who once won 20 games for the Red Sox. Eventually, Eckersley landed in Oakland where manager Tony La Russa converted Eck to the ‘pen and finally closer.
When Roger Clemens experienced some arm issues early in his career there were discussions about Clemens potentially going to the bullpen to close. With any pitcher, the difference is pacing since an inning of bullpen work allows a petal to the metal attitude. With a Sale, the issue of finding your stuff should be minimal as Sale has little difficulty pitching himself into a game.
With Craig Kimbrel being a free agent, the Red Sox may just explore the Sale option if his arm becomes a significant concern. I can picture a more upscale version of Andrew Miller and quite capable of going “old school” with more than one inning.