Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale extension a big risk for the Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox are close to a contract extension, but the team might not be getting the pitcher they think they are.

Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox are going all-in on his left arm for the foreseeable future.

Sale, 29, is close to signing a contract extension with the Red Sox, a deal first reported by Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. Details aren’t finalized yet, but the deal will likely keep him in Boston well into his 30s.

Sale, who turns 30 in eight days, was eligible to become a free agent after this season, a year in which he will make $15 million. The tall, lanky left-hander is coming off his seventh straight All-Star season, his second with the Red Sox, finishing with a 12-4 record and a 2.11 ERA in 27 starts.

By these measures Sale’s deal with the Red Sox makes sense. He’s one of the most dominant starting pitchers in the league with the best strikeout-to-walk and SO/9 ratio in baseball history. Towards the end of the season, however, there were signs that counting on Sale long-term is a big risk.

Shoulder inflammation limited Sale to just seven starts and 29 innings pitched after the All-Star break in 2018. He returned in time for Boston’s run to the World Series, striking out Manny Machado for the final out in October. That final image, though, hid the fact that Sale wasn’t the same pitcher. In five playoff appearances, his ERA rose to 4.17 and he only lasted into the sixth inning once. Sale has pitched the seventh most innings of any starter in the last five seasons, putting stress on his powerful left arm that may be starting to let him down.

For the Red Sox organization, signing Sale to an extension makes their already-fragile luxury tax situation even more precarious. The Red Sox currently have a $237 million payroll for the 2019 season, more than $31 million over the luxury tax threshold. That carries with it a 42 per cent tax which rises to 75 per cent if their payroll increases by just $9 million.

As the Red Sox creep ever higher above the threshold they’ve come to realize they can’t keep everyone. Closer Craig Kimbrel was allowed to leave in free agency, leaving the club with an uncertain bullpen. They’re also facing several more tough decisions in the next few years.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who finished second on the team in 2018 with 103 RBI, becomes a free agent after this season and is due a raise from his current $12 million contract. Reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts hits the open market in two years and will likely command a deal near Mike Trout’s $430 million extension; Betts already revealed he turned down Boston’s $200 million offer and doesn’t expect to sign an extension with the team before his contract runs out. Left fielder Andrew Benintendi remains under team control for another four seasons but is arbitration-eligible next offseason after earning just $717,000 this year.

The Red Sox loaded up for their run at the 2018 World Series, leaving them with a gluttony of star players who will need to be paid sooner or later. They’re taking care of Sale now, counting on the fact his best days aren’t already behind him.

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