WASHINGTON — Win a couple of Cy Youngs? Show some postseason prowess? Just keep doing what he’s doing? What does Chris Sale need to do to start being in the conversation of future Hall of Famer?
It used to be you had to have 300 wins, but in this analytics-driven baseball world wins aren’t as important any more. Now it’s domination via the strikeout and other pitching stats more pertinent than wins.
After informally asking some of the All-Stars who have faced him, there isn’t a player who didn’t think Sale was the class of the league.
“Top of the list. I can’t think of anyone who would be above him. I’m sure I’m missing one or two, but he’s top three,” said former Red Sox second baseman and Oakland A’s All-Star Jed Lowrie.
Royals All-Star backstop Salvador Perez, who will catch Sale for the third straight year in the All-Star Game, said, “He’s the toughest pitcher in the league. I mean, he’s nasty. I hate facing him. Nobody likes it. He’s got that fastball, that slider. It’s just so tough.”
Manny Machado chimed in, “He’s Chris Sale. He comes at you with that 6-5 body with arms and legs going all over the place and he’s not throwing 86. He’s throwing 98-99 and it’s just going to be a tough day at the office when you know he’s pitching. If you can get a hit off him, that’s a major accomplishment.”
He is the Red Sox’ ace, maybe the ace of the league. Yet Sale has never won the Cy Young. He played in his first postseason last year. As great as he’s been there are things he needs to accomplish still.
He’s 101-62, a .620 winning percentage with 1,740 strikeouts in 1,453⅓ innings. He’s got a 10.8 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.21. All numbers are off the charts.
So Sale’s future with the Red Sox is an important matter. He has one option year remaining on his contract for $13.5 million. So why worry? Why not just pick up the final option of the contract sometime after the season ends and have him for the 2019 season at a cheap price and then figure it out?
As Sale talked Monday about his third consecutive start as the American League All-Star pitcher you couldn’t help but think that Sale is falling into the Roger Clemens/Pedro Martinez territory. He’s going to be a pitcher you look back on and think, “Wow, this guy was an event every time he pitched.”
So the contract thing is tricky. His agent, B.B. Abbott, said he does not talk about contract negotiations, so we won’t get much from him. Nor does Dave Dombrowski engage is such talk either. Both sides will know when the time comes, if it hasn’t already.
The reason it’s also important to tie Sale up soon is because if he goes all the way through the final year of his contract and he’s still the best in the game, there’s a team called the Yankees in the same division that would like nothing more than to snatch him from the Red Sox.
Sale may be concerned about getting hurt on the brink of a $30 million-plus per year deal. It’s the chance all players take by not signing early. Some have gotten burned on this. But remember all the pitching experts who said while Sale was in Chicago that his violent delivery would yield an arm/elbow issue at some point? Well, it’s about nine years and seven All-Star appearances later, and he at times throws 100 miles per hour. The same was said about his NL counterpart Tuesday, Max Scherzer
“To me, Chris is the complete pitcher. A guy who can go out there pitch multiple pitches, attack the strike zone, has the fastball and demeanor and intensity out there to compete with anybody,” Scherzer said about Sale. “He’s going to give you everything he’s got, whether it means 120 pitches, and honestly, for me, when I get to face him, it brings the best out of me. I love competing against him. He’s one of the best in the game, if not the best, and he’s so much fun to watch.”
Sale is, to be frank, the modern-day Randy Johnson. He’s tall and thin. Not 6-10 tall, but 6-6 is tall enough. Johnson had a thicker frame, but the results are similar — a dominating lefthanded pitcher who racks up an enormous number of strikeouts and who dominates virtually every opponent he faces. Sale will pitch one inning Tuesday night. The top three NL hitters will be Javier Baez, Nolan Arenado, and Paul Goldschmidt, with Freddie Freeman hitting fourth.
“It’ll be a challenge,” said Arenado, who has never faced Sale. “I’m told by guys in the other league that he’s the guy they hate facing the most. I guess I’ll find out first-hand.”
Sale loves the adrenaline he feels pitching in the All-Star Game.
“I’ve always really enjoyed it, too. Obviously the competition is the best,” said Sale. “I mean, you look at both of these lineups and up and down the best hitters on the planet [are] in these lineups. Yeah, you definitely have to have your stuff together and go out there and just compete. These ballparks get pretty lively during these events, too, during the All-Star Game. It just raises your adrenaline a little bit and just go out there and compete.”
Sale will be on display as the premiere pitcher in the AL. He was chosen over Yankees righthander Luis Severino and Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell for the starting honors. We are watching something out of the Roger/Pedro page of greatness. The tough part will be keeping him around for the long run. And it’s never too early to start that discussion.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.