The Atlanta Braves have become known for gambling with contracts. The Braves signed breakout stars like Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Michael Harris II to club-friendly deals early in their young careers, and the risk has been paying dividends for the team despite guaranteeing so much money early on.
Atlanta recently took a gamble that a lot of Red Sox fans likely wouldn't recommend, though, when they signed seven-time All-Star Chris Sale to a two-year extension.
The Braves acquired Sale from the Sox on Dec. 30 and extended him five days later, before he ever saw a start in an Atlanta uniform. Sale signed a two-year, $38 million contract with an $18 million club option for 2026.
After pitching two seasons and winning a World Series with the Red Sox, Sale signed a five-year, $145 million extension in March of 2019. Sale's 2019 season prematurely ended in August due to elbow inflammation. He missed the entirety of the 2020 season and most of the 2021 slate while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Sale missed almost the entirety of 2022, as well. He had a delayed start to the season after suffering a fractured rib. He returned to the rotation in July and made one start, only to take a line drive to the hand and have his pinky broken in his second outing. During his rehabilitation, Sale fell off his bike and broke his wrist, which ended his season. Sale began the 2023 season in the rotation, but he missed June through mid-August due to a scapula injury. He hasn't made more than 27 starts in a season since 2017.
In the past four seasons, Sale has made 31 starts. When he's healthy, he could be qualified as an elite pitcher. But his injury track record alone is enough to deter most teams from taking on such a risk -- unless the team is the Atlanta.
Chris Sale's contract wasn't worth it for the Red Sox. The extension from the Braves is a bold choice.
Boston needed to get rid of Sale to see any true advancement in its starting rotation. Sale's contract was holding up a significant amount of money that the Sox had not seen enough of a return on. Unless Atlanta can keep Sale off the IL, a seemingly impossible task, Sale's extension won't be worth it for them, either.
Despite the highs in his Red Sox uniform, Sale had to go. He never lived up to his extension and Boston got a fine return for him in Vaughn Grissom, a 23-year-old infielder who made 23 major league appearances last season and batted .280. Grissom has a bright future ahead of him, so it sure seems like the Braves needed to justify sending him to Boston by ensuring Sale had more than one guaranteed year in Atlanta. Though the extension given to Sale seems like it might be team-friendly, it kind of feels like a bit of desperation. Sale is heading into his age-35 season in 2024. Do they really think his age-36 and -37 seasons will provide the production that's needed?
Many Red Sox fans have fond memories of Sale. Watching him strike out Manny Machado to take home the 2018 World Series is a moment a lot of Bostonians will never forget. But even with all of his accolades and his incredible (when healthy) arm, most Sox fans are glad to see him go, and they couldn't be more satisfied with the return and resulting money spent on future regression years.