Buy Or Sale? Considering The Red Sox Pitching Situation

Today, we look at how Boston might approach Chris Sale's position with the club as his injury rehab tracks alongside the approaching trade deadline.

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know…

. . . While they already have made a splash this season with the acquisition of All-Star Adam Frazier from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the San Diego Padres had one of the most active Trade Deadlines of recent memory in 2020. Over the final days of August last year, the team acquired nine players, eight of those having appeared in an MLB game last season. The haul included the likes of pitcher Mike Clevenger, first baseman Mitch Moreland, catcher Jason Castro, and relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal. Before 2020, only three MLB teams had acquired seven MLB players in the month leading up to the Trade Deadline since 1986: the 2006 Cincinnati Reds, the 2003 New York Yankees, and the 2000 Baltimore Orioles.

. . . Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have acquired Nelson Cruz, if Wander Franco and Cruz ever line up back-to-back in the Rays order, they will be the first MLB duo to hit back-to-back in a starting lineup where one player is twice as old as the other since Ozzie Albies and R.A. Dickey did it for the Atlanta Braves in 2017.


Leading Off

Managing Expectations For Chis Sale’s Return

By Tani Levitt

With Major League Baseball’s trade deadline quickly approaching, rumors are swirling about which All-Stars will be on the move. Of course, the trade-to-rumor ratio will end heavily tilted towards rumors, and the trade deadline always brings surprises. With this backdrop, the most influential MLB game on Sunday might actually have been a Minor League Baseball Game: Harrisburg Senators @ Portland Sea Dogs.

One player who will certainly be on the move in the coming weeks is Chris Sale, who, yesterday, made his third rehab start since returning from Tommy John surgery for the Sea Dogs. Sale threw 64 pitches over 3 ⅔ innings and allowed 6 hits, 2 runs, and 0 walks while striking out 9 batters. He has been lights out in his three minor league starts, and, more importantly, has already been hitting 97 mph with his fastball and striking out batters with his slider with ease. 

Sale is already displaying control over his pitches, and touching velocities that even the most optimistic fans wouldn’t have expected at this point, so one might wonder if Sale could join the Red Sox for his next start, a true internal trade-deadline addition. But even before this start, Red Sox manager Alex Cora made it clear that Sale will continue his rehab in the minor leagues. 

While this might be frustrating for Red Sox fans who see a gaping hole at the top of the Red Sox rotation, Cora’s caution is both warranted and predictable. Pitching fans will know that Tommy John recoveries are fickle and unreliable. Look no further than Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard, two other aces who had Tommy John surgery in 2020. Both had their surgeries before Sale, and have suffered major setbacks in their injuries. In fact, Chris Sale is on pace to be the first pitcher to make it back to the big leagues after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2020.

Moreover, we have seen Alex Cora manage Chris Sale cautiously through a late-season return from injury before. Sale injured his left elbow multiple times in 2018, and though he returned to the team and was able to contribute heavily to the Red Sox World Series run, he never returned to his full workload. Sale never reached 100 pitches in the playoff run and was even scratched from starting Game 5 of the 2018 World Series, instead entering the game from the bullpen and clinching the series for Boston.

Noting Cora’s caution, Jenn McCaffrey of the Athletic estimates that Sale will return to Boston in the first week of August, but what kind of length he will offer his team in a given game and how frequently he will start is yet to be seen. Sale is not on pace to reach 90 pitches in any of his rehab starts, and he will undoubtedly face more challenges when facing big-league batters, even with his Cy Young level abilities.

Tyler Maher wrote in this newsletter last week that Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox front office will have work to do before the trade deadline passes, and he is absolutely right. The Red Sox need to add to their starting pitching, and fans will learn about Cora and Bloom’s expectations for Sale based on what level of pitcher the team goes after. If the Red Sox trade for Max Scherzer, fans will know that the team won’t be relying on Sale to be the team’s ace. If they look below the all-star tier, fans can infer that the Red Sox are hoping for a bigger role for Sale down the stretch.

Cora will probably continue to be cautious with Chris Sale as he has in the past, knowing that the Red Sox have already done a lot of the necessary work to make it to the playoffs. After all, Cora and Sale both know that Sale will be most valuable come October, as long as he can get there. But no matter how many innings Sale pitches for the Red Sox this fall, he is giving Red Sox fans reason to expect big things in the innings he does spend on the mound.

Tani Levitt is a freelance writer, podcast producer, and journalism student at NYU. He likes baseball, beat-boxing and breathing – roughly in that order. You can find his work on Twitter @HateItOrLevitt. His email address is netanel.levitt@gmail.com.


Extra Innings

"You want people to believe in you and me personally, good lord, I'd like to make a run at it."
- Seattle Mariners’ third baseman Kyle Seager when asked about the possibility of the team adding pieces at the upcoming trade deadline.