When I first heard that an ace Red Sox lefthander was heading to see Dr. James Andrews, I assumed the absolute worse: Chris Sale’s left elbow had succumbed to the violent, herky-jerky motion that causes so many swings and misses, but appears to put tremendous stress on the elbow. The trade that depleted the once fertile Red Sox farm system all for naught.
Fortunately, Sale’s elbow was not in question. It was David Price’s elbow that was cause for concern following a two-inning simulated game. Fortunately, Price’s pain appears to be — as of now — muscular in nature, not structural.
Why did I assume it was Sale with the bum elbow? The whipping side-arm delivery combined with a slender frame is often cause for concern. The high-elbow, low shoulder mechanics that make Sale so effective puts tremendous stress on the elbow, which can cause a torn ligament, which leads to visits to Dr. Andrews’ office, which often leads to season-ending Tommy John surgery.
The White Sox were always aware of the warning signs, but never tampered with Sale’s unconventional pitching mechanics. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper observed that most pitchers with pitching styles comparable to Sale stood more upright, causing the elbow to take the brunt of the stress. Sale comes down a bit lower with his entire body, putting added pressure on the legs while relieving stress from the elbow.
The White Sox projection has been on the money to date. Their former ace has landed on the disabled list only once in his seven-year career with a strained flexor muscle in his left arm. The injury came one start after throwing 127 pitches, coincidentally, against the Red Sox in 2014. An MRI revealed no ligament damage.
After sacrificing Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, two of baseball’s top prospects, among others to land Sale, the Red Sox have obviously bought into the White Sox prognosis. Deception is a key ingredient to Sale’s success, so the Red Sox have no plans to change Sale’s arm slot. He has proved to be durable throughout his career, so the Red Sox are willing to take a calculated risk.
As for Price, health has never been an issue and durability has always been a strength. A smooth, flawless pitching motion seems to put minimal stress on his elbow, but a heavy workload may be catching up to Price. The 31-year-old southpaw has logged 200+ inning in six of the last seven seasons. He has thrown 698 ⅔ innings over the past three seasons, more than any other pitcher in baseball and mind boggling considering bullpen use in today’s baseball. Perhaps an ailing arm has be been in the offing for the last few years, before he arrived in Boston.
The Red Sox are hopeful that Price’s elbow remains structurally sound. Hopeful that rest and medication to reduce the swelling are the cure with no long-lasting effects. Hopeful that he continues to be the workhorse that championship-driven teams crave. Hopeful that he is past the first-season in Boston jitters. In what was arguably Price’s worse season, he won 17 games while leading the league in strikeouts (230) and innings pitched (35). He played a key role in the Red Sox first place American League East finish.
The Red Sox are taking calculated risks on two left-handed aces who came to Boston at a high price in terms of money and future holdings. A calculated roll of the dice in what should prove to be a fascinating season.
Christmas comes early for Red Sox fans as the Old Towne Team acquires the best available pitcher for four prospects. Never one to shy away from a blockbuster deal, Red Sox baseball cazr Dave Dombrowski has put the Red Sox in prime position to be baseball’s best for the next several years.
WHAT DOES THE SALE TRADE MEAN TO THE RED SOX?
Chris Sale joins a rotation with Cy Young winners Rick Porcello (2016) and David Price (2012) not to mention 2016 All-Stars Steve Wright and Drew Pomeranz. Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez provide depth and possible trade chips for roster flexibility and future improvements.
If all goes according to plan, the triple-headed monster atop the rotation will account for 50 or so wins and more the 600 mostly-quality innings. Improving the pitching rotation was not a top priority for the 2017 Red Sox, but Sale is a big-time difference maker. With a vastly improved rotation combined with a rebuilt bullpen and a dynamic offense, the Red Sox are clearly the team to beat in the American League.
HOW GOOD IS CHRIS SALE?
Sale had yet to win a Cy Young Award, but his resume is quite impressive:
- Finished in the top six of the AL Cy Young voting each of the past five years with a high of third place in 2014 when he compiled a 2.17 ERA.
- Had a league-leading 274 strikeouts in 208.2 innings in 2015.
- In the past five years, just one major league pitcher has a lower ERA than Sale’s 3.04 and more strikeouts than his 1,133. His name is Clayton Kershaw.
- Has struck out 27.9% of the batters he’s faced in his major league career, which is best among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched.
- Has produced more value by Wins Above Replacement than any other players from the 2010 draft class, ahead of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Read that last bullet point again … slowly … Yes, it’s true, Chris Sale has been that productive.
- Has finished in the top 10 among AL pitchers in WAR four times, strikeouts five times, and ERA five times in just five seasons as a starter. That is a gigantic WOW!
- Ranks first among all active AL pitchers in career WHIP (1.01). Partner in crime and fellow southpaw David Price ranks second (1.14).
- Is 4-1 with an anemic 1.17 ERA in 10 career games against the Yankees.
Always a good sign when your newly-acquired, yet-to-reach-his-prime, 27-year-old-pitcher has a more accomplished career than his two Cy Young Award winning teammates.
AT WHAT COST DID THE RED SOX ACQUIRE CHRIS SALE?
A pitcher of Sale’s caliber does not come cheap. With an aim towards the World Series, the Red Sox paid a steep price to acquire one of the game’s best pitchers.
The deal would not have happened without 21-year-old Cuban import Yoan Moncada changing his red sox for white. The No. 1 prospect in Baseball America’s “Midseason Top 100”, Moncada has compiled a .875 OPS with 94 stolen bases in 187 minor league games. The switch-hitting, fielding-challenged Moncada was also named Baseball America’s 2016 Minor League Player of the Year. He’s projected to be the White Sox second baseman of the future.
Comparisons to Harper, Machado, and Mike Trout are a bit premature as Moncada strikes out at an alarming rate and is suspect defensively, but his raw potential is staggering. He has big-time speed and major power potential built into a 6’2”, 205-pound frame. With second base his likely landing place, Moncada reminds many baseball people of Robinson Cano.
The White Sox also receive flamethrowing prospect Michael Kopech, a potential ace with with a checkered past. One of the game’s top pitching prospects, Kopech’s fastball consistently clocks at 101 mph and has reportedly topped out at 105 mph. He also throws a plus curveball and is developing a change up. Missed time due to a PED suspension and broken hand resulting from an altercation with a teammate have slowed his growth and caused reason for concern. But Kopech has a big-time arm and the White Sox believe he is worth the gamble.
Luis Alexander Basabe, a speedy centerfielder with many tools, and Victor Diaz, a strong-armed reliever with command issues complete the deal. Both have significant upside, but are several years away from cracking the majors.
Yes, the bounty was high, but opportunities to acquire the Chris Sales of the world are few and far between.
IS THERE ANY RISK INVOLVED FOR THE RED SOX?
There is always some risk involved with blockbuster deals. Sale’s low-slot, high-elbow pitching motion accounts for deceptive movement to his pitches, but also puts him at risk for declining velocity or potential injury. Some scouts believe Sale’s pitching motion will cause accelerated wear and tear to his elbow. The Red Sox are using the past to project the future. In his five year career, Sale has never made fewer than 26 starts and has qualified for an ERA title every year. With the Red Sox pitching depth, an occasional skipped start to rest the arm should not be an issue.
The Red Sox are taking minimal risk financially as they control Sale for three years for $38 million — an absolute steal for an ace in today’s pitching market. He will count just $6 million against the luxury tax next season. The likely shedding of Buchholz’s $13.5 million contract before the start of the season will keep the Red Sox under the $195 million luxury tax threshold.
DID THE RED SOX MAKE A WISE DECISION IN TRADING FOR SALE?
Absolutely, positively yes. Red Sox ownership brought Dombrowski to Boston to win a World Series, not to have the most players in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list. Sale in the starting rotation brings the Red Sox closer to the ultimate goal than Moncada, Kopech, et al developing in the minors. The future is now.
Merry Christmas, Red Sox fans!