Red Sox face life without Chris Sale this season, possibly beyond

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 23: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox delivers the pitch during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park on October 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 23: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox delivers the pitch during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the 2018 World Series at Fenway Park on October 23, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Just what options do the Boston Red Sox have if Chris Sale is gone for a season? The reality is more is needed than just a pristine Sale for 2020.

As I write this, my right shoulder is on the painful side which varies in intensity as it has since I injured my right arm many decades ago throwing too many fastballs. That was another century well before advanced metrics and advanced orthopedic intervention. If the 17-year-old me today was faced with this I would scurry off to the shoulder specialist and undoubtedly have it repaired despite the fact my abilities were sub-standard.

A right of passage for far too many pitchers and even a growing number of position players is Tommy John Surgery. The procedure is used extensively from high school to seasoned professionals and for hurlers, the standard recovery is 18 months. The best bullpen pitcher the Red Sox have is Brandon Workman who went through TJ surgery. Former manager John Farrell had three.

Chris Sale has a noted downside in his career statistics and that is a late-season performance which degrades in August and September. With his talent level, it is best described as going from “Ace” to a number two in the rotation – a small but consistent drop and certainly one that drew attention when Sale was brought into the fold.

The last two seasons for Sale have been a warning sign with late-season injuries all to his magical and expensive left arm. Sale’s new 5-year, $145 million contract will not kick in until the 2020 season is underway. Where Sale will be is the question that will be eventually answered. If it is just a rest issue, Sale will top the rotation in 2020 and I fully expect a repeat of physical breakdowns if that happens.

If surgery is recommended, Sale will have a nice $30 million recovery for 2020, but that was the risk the Red Sox assumed when they extended Sale. Were the Red Sox hasty? Probably, just as they were with Nathan Eovaldi and even David Price who was given seven years as a 30-year-old. Hindsight is a wonderful tool to utilize. I should have sold that World Com stock.

If Sale is absent from 2020, the rotation has a cavernous hole that simply cannot be plugged unless the payroll is greatly expanded or a dramatic trade takes place. A Gerrit Cole will not be a bargain and neither will a Dallas Keuchel. The external options are quite limited, but trades are not.

A possible winner from the Sale IL visit is a much-maligned righty, Andrew Cashner. Cashner was sent to the bullpen after his starting performances significantly raised the American League collective batting averages. Cashner now has a chance at redemption and an outside chance at getting the innings needed to kick in his $10 million option.

The next in line for a possible nth chance is Steven Wright. Wright is dealing with his physical issues and is borderline regarding his roster slot, but winning 13 games and being an All-Star a few seasons back maybe is a life-preserver. Nether Cashner or Wright will compensate for Sale.  Very few can and Clayton Kershaw is not coming to Boston.

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The Sale case, even if he is given the medical stamp of approval and a five-star rating on his left arm, still will not ease the pitching. Within the minor league system, quality pitching is simply not present. Darwinzon Hernandez has been a refreshing surprise and is being trained for the bullpen. Hernandez has electric stuff but the rest of the system just maybe a short-circuit fizzle. But opportunity is there for rapid advancement and after a long drought just maybe and arm will come out from hiding to contribute to the rotation or bullpen.

The Red Sox thirst for pitching and not just some pedestrian chucker is well-known. The Red Sox rotation and bullpen need quality and not quantity since the staff already has quite a collection of bindlestiffs of questionable reliability and talent.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is in a box and actually in a corner of that box. Much of his circumstance is self-induced but to extricate himself and make the 2020 Red Sox formidable will take cleverness, luck, boldness, and some diligent work. Replacing Sale and/or rebuilding the bullpen rubbish and rotation failings is a make or break task for Dombrowski.

Life without Sale and even life with Sale is placing the Red Sox in a situation to spend or trade or do both. That is a possible path out of the box and it is ripe with risks. Trading a Mookie Betts or Andrew Benintendi is a painful pill to swallow, but resource-wise they are among a handful that actually can carry out filling the requisition card for pitching.

dark. Next. Xander Bogaerts deserves more respect from other teams

Since the primary focus is on the loss of Sale for a season, within that is a refreshingly positive and that is a healthy and (hopefully) rebuilt Sale for 2021 if things do not go well with a visit to Dr. Andrews.  That has happened before with fragile arms, but the opposite has also happened where other non-surgical options are presented.  Maybe the Red Sox and Sale will catch a break in this disappointing season.