Red Sox's Chris Sale is back in form, so it's time to trade him
By Rick McNair
The long road to recovery for Boston Red Sox lefty Chris Sale is successful. The latest outing was a magnificent gem against the St. Louis Cardinals in which Sale's slider, fastball variants, and occasional change were vintage Sale. Now trade him while the opportunity is fresh. No - I am not off any medications.
The Red Sox payroll has been on a diet and is now ranked 15th in baseball. Sale represents almost 10% of that payroll obligation, with a luxury tax salary listed at $25.6 million or the highest on the team. That figure will be repeated in 2024 and in 2025; a club option exists for a $20 million luxury tax hit. If management wants to really slim down on financial obligations, this is it.
Conversely, Sale is not too expensive for the Red Sox to carry. They have the money, the LT space, and the pitching ace they thought they had when they traded for Sale. Why give that up? Why give up potentially the best of the best in a rotation that is rough around the edges? My reasoning is Branch Rickey.
Who was Branch Rickey? The Society For American Baseball Research (SABR) can provide a synopsis here. Rickey was the total baseball package from player to innovator, and one comment that Rickey made to explain a trade of a star player hangs true in most circumstances: "It is better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late."
Sale is 34 years old and has a rebuilt arm and, hopefully, a rebuilt career. At the same age, another string beam lefty - Randy Johnson - started a string of four straight Cy Young Awards. At the same age, Roger Clemens was deemed to be on the downside, and the Sox let him slip away to Toronto, where Clemens had back-to-back Cy Young Awards. Do you notice a negative possibility? Then there is the other side of risky pitching ventures for star arms, and that list would have Google add a few more servers.
Market predictions are difficult to determine trade value. Still, in the early going of this season, several teams are shaping up to make it an actual quantity race for the playoffs, creating a market and a situation that Boston can take advantage of.
Boston has shown no difficulties in vanquishing star players. Mookie Betts continues his elite status in Los Angeles, and Xander Bogaerts is doing the same in San Diego. With Betts, the return has made the deal mildly palatable.
As Chris Sale improves so does his value to Red Sox
With any trade action, I expect the returns to be young players who are controllable in this world of contracts focusing on service time. That was what the Betts trade had, and I would expect the same with a Sale trade. After all, Boston gave up two of their most valuable prospects to get Sale, and I would expect the same in reverse.
The message of trading Sale could be a negative in the clubhouse environment, a message that the team has surrendered, or a message that your reward for hard work and successful recovery is a one-way ticket out of town. In today's baseball world, with free agency, arbitration, luxury tax, and cost control, it is just pure business practice. Players no longer have firm roots; money drives players, management, and agents.
That legendary social commentator Abigail Van Buren presented the age-old question: "Are you better off with him or without him?" With Dear Abby, it applied to marriage turmoil but you can apply it to baseball. Of course, this is a better team with Sale leading a rotation and providing that comfort zone every five games, but there is the long-term view.
Long-term is just what returns you get and how they impact your team. The Betts deal is now showing more in the dividends department, and the payroll flexibility will also be enhanced with a Sale departure.
The PR outburst is minimal if history is any example. The social media firestorm over management penny-pinching dissipated over the signing of Trevor Story, Rafael Devers, and Masataka Yoshida. Red Sox fans would express outrage, acceptance, or astute management decisions based on how it is framed.
I will go with Branch Rickey on this one and make a deal while Sale is in one piece. Of course, they are the better team with him, but without him, they almost made it to the World Series a few years back and have (finally) a few arms of promise on the Big Club and toiling in the minors.