After the World Series, Chris Sale has the right to opt out of the last two years and $55 million of the five-year, $145 million extension he signed with the Red Sox in 2019. He won’t be exercising it.
“He has told us that he is going to opt in,” said Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.
The decision is unsurprising, given that the 33-year-old Sale (he turns 34 next March) has pitched just 48⅓ innings over 11 starts in the first three years of the extension.
Sale missed all of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March that kept him out until mid-August of 2021. He went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA down the stretch that year, helping the Sox reach the playoffs.
The Sox anticipated that he’d reclaim a spot in the front of their rotation in 2022, but he suffered a stress reaction in his right ribcage while preparing for the season during the lockout, and a non-baseball medical condition slowed his return.
He rejoined the Sox in early July, but in just his second start, his left pinkie finger was broken by an Aaron Hicks line drive in Yankee Stadium, and the injury required surgery. Shortly after he resumed a throwing program in August, Sale broke his right wrist, ending any hopes of a return in 2022. According to the team, the fracture occurred in a bicycling accident.
Sale is expected to make a full recovery. Because his fractures in 2022 were viewed as one-off occurrences rather than chronic issues, the Red Sox believe there’s no reason to think that he can’t be a valuable member of the rotation in 2023 — even as his succession of injuries requires some acknowledgment that his availability can’t be taken for granted.
“You talk to the situations that he has been in and the things that have happened, there is no reason looking at next year he shouldn’t be a huge part of this,” Bloom said at the end of the season. “But obviously you can probably go back and find instances of me saying exactly that in a lot of different ways over the last few years. We know when somebody hasn’t carried a workload in a while it means certain things on how you should plan.
“Look, he’s a part of this. We were really encouraged by how he looked when he came back in that short time before he got hurt again. We fully expect him to be a huge part of our success next year.
“It’s always our responsibility to make sure we’re prepared for as many things as possible that can go wrong. So that’s going to be part of our offseason planning for next year.”
In parts of 12 big league seasons, Sale owns a 114-75 record, 3.03 ERA, and the highest strikeout rate (30.6 percent) for any pitcher who has thrown 1,500 innings. He finished in the top six in Cy Young voting in each of seven straight years with the White Sox and Red Sox from 2012-18, and was named to the All-Star team in each of those seasons.
The Red Sox acquired Sale via trade from the White Sox after the 2016 season in exchange for four prospects, a package headlined by Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Sale dominated in his first two seasons in Boston, a stretch highlighted by his striking out the side in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2018 World Series against the Dodgers to clinch a title for the Red Sox.
Sale’s first three years in Boston came at a relatively low cost in the final years of a five-year, $32.5 million deal he’d signed with the White Sox entering 2013, a contract that included a pair of option years.
The Sox reached their five-year extension with Sale in the spring of 2019 as he entered his final season with them before free agency. But that extension quickly took on troubling dimensions when Sale struggled to his worst big league season in 2019 (6-11, 4.40 ERA) and finished the year on the injured list with an elbow strain that the next spring became the ulnar collateral ligament tear that necessitated surgery.
That was the first in a string of injuries that has cost Sale most of the last three seasons, but the Sox remain hopeful that good health remains attainable.
“I feel like a broken record saying it’s such a bizarre run of injuries,” said Bloom. “Every single one has left us feeling that he should be perfectly OK on the other side of it. This one [the wrist] is no different. Looking forward to an on-time start for him and being fully available for us next year.”