Buckley: Chris Sale has to prove he’s worth his contract, and not just for his own sake

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Let’s get that out of the way. Once again. Chris Sale’s contract with the Red Sox was a disaster.

That’s not a cheap shot. It’s no frills. It’s not a hot shot. And as any casual Red Sox fan can tell you, it’s not exactly short news.

The cold hard fact is that the five-year, $145 million contract extension that then-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski gifted to Sale during spring 2019 training didn’t bring the results he wanted. Consider that Sale has pitched a since 2018 in total of 195 2/3 innings. There is the 2019 season, which was cut short due to an elbow infection. There’s the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, which was shortened to nothing in Sales Fall after the veteran left-hander underwent Tommy John surgery. He made it back in time to make nine starts in 2021, but in 2022 Sale hit the injury trifecta:

Even before spring training began, he was throwing batting drills at his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University, when he suffered a stress fracture in his right rib cage.

In July, he broke a finger on his pitching hand after being hit by a line drive from Yankees player Aaron Hicks’ bat.

In August, the team said he fractured his right wrist when he fell off his bike while having lunch.

Some of this is bad luck, such as Hiccup hitting a mid-missile that Sale hit. But for anyone who’s ever worried that Sale’s grassy physique (6-6, 185 pounds) and whip-like, side-armed delivery made for a dangerous concoction, well, here we are.

Say this about Sale: The man never lacked in confidence or bravery. Those qualities were historically displayed vividly in the 2018 World Series against the Dodgers, when he beat the team in the ninth inning of Boston’s 5-1 Game 5 win. The way Sale came out of the bullpen had It Decided the quality of a beer, with bonus points finishing it off with a slider so nasty that sneaky Manny Machado swung weakly and fell to the ground. For Sox fans who will never forget Machado for the takeout chute that all but ruined the career of popular second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Sale’s methodical strikeout of Machado was a case in which all family matters were settled.

This is the Chris Sale, who sat on the green bench for a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon. When asked if he would be willing to pitch on opening day, he replied, “I never was.”

Sale also said that this Red Sox team has “character” and that “we’re here to make some noise.” Sure, he tends to fabricate that kind of rhetoric year after year after year, but in this case, it’s fine. Gone are the days of David Orriz, of Mookie Betts, of Xander Bogaerts. The Sox need some players who bring a little swagger, and Sale has some experience in that department. Now all he has to do is back up a ton of talk with a ton of innings.

But there is one comment Sale made Wednesday that is crucial — for him, for the Red Sox in 2023, for future Red Sox seasons. When asked if part of him is trying to “prove” he’s worth the money, he said, “I wouldn’t necessarily say I have to prove a contract, as much as I have to fulfill what I mean for it must be teammates. for my coaching staff, the fans, for our owners… I got this (contract) to do a job and I didn’t do that.

He said this “ate me alive”.

This is precisely why he actually has to “prove” the contract. That is, prove that he was worth his money. It’s possible he could be without a light this season and next for a team that doesn’t compete, but that’s not the point here. What matters is that Sale needs to remind Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner that big-ticket players and names above the marquee are worth the money. The best way for Sale to get his point across is to be the pitcher they envisioned when they gave him this contract extension.

“If you look at my career, you get to ’18, you throw the last pitcher in the World Series, you go to spring training, you sign the contract, what could go wrong, right?” he said. “To answer that question, pretty much anything. I know how quickly it can be gone.”

Red Sox fans have since learned how quickly Mookie Betts can be gone and how quickly Xander Boagerts can be gone. Here were two players, two players signed, developed and promoted by the Red Sox who were mainstays of the last championship team and were to be mainstays of the next. But they’re gone now, gone for the money.

Sale has to fulfill his contract, if only, well, prove that it pays to keep good players. That’s why next Tuesday is a big day for the Red Sox. Sale will throw “live BP” for the first time, meaning he faces real Red Sox players. These things tend to be more dog-and-pony shows than news events, and honestly, I can only remember once when a pitcher throwing live BP was a big, big deal. It was 2007 and Daisuke Matsuzaka threw live BP for the first time — for a career minor league named Bobby Scales. When it was over, John Blake, then head of media relations, highlighted the scale of events by announcing, “Bobby Scales will be available in the interview room in 10 minutes.”

OK, so it won’t be The. But it’s important that the Red Sox see what they have in Chris Sale — not just for 2023, but for 2024, for 2025, for 2026.

(Photo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

https://theathletic.com/4207342/2023/02/15/buckley-chris-sale-contract/ Buckley: Chris Sale has to prove he’s worth his contract, and not just for his own sake

Russell Falcon

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