Losing an ace pitcher to Tommy John surgery is never a good thing. Yet, without Chris Sale, the Boston Red Sox may benefit from lower expectations.
Prior to the 2017 season, the Boston Red Sox made a franchise-altering trade when they acquired left-handed pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox. They gave up a ton of young talent to get him – Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz – yet Sale was one of the top pitchers in the game and was expected to change the look of the team.
It was recently announced that Sale would undergo Tommy John surgery, meaning that pitching in 2020 is out of the question and that he’ll likely miss some of 2021 as well. It’s safe to say this wasn’t what the club had in mind when they traded for him, and certainly not what they had in mind when they signed him to a five-year extension prior to the 2019 season.
Yet while it’s never good news to lose a star pitcher to Tommy John surgery, this news could be a blessing in disguise for the Red Sox. Let’s be honest: The Red Sox were already facing a tall uphill climb to contend in 2020.
Aside from trading away Mookie Betts, one of the best players in the game, they also were losing Rick Porcello and David Price from their starting rotation. Coming off an 84-78 season in 2019, with two playoff-caliber teams in the division in the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, their chances in the AL East with Sale already weren’t good. In fact, some thought they would have a hard time fighting off the up-and-coming Toronto Blue Jays for third place.
The team did bring in Martin Perez and Collin McHugh to add some rotation depth, but they, along with Nathan Eovaldi, coming off a terrible 2019, now will need to step into much bigger roles in the starting rotation this year. That doesn’t exactly inspire tons of confidence.
Without Sale, expectations will be even lower for Ron Roenicke and the Red Sox this year, and that’s a good thing. This will allow Chaim Bloom to move forward on the team’s rebuild, retool, or whatever it is they will decide to do to try to build a future winner. With one of the game’s weakest farm systems, plus a still high payroll, there’s a lot of work to do, so they might as well get going on it now.
We can’t say that the Sale trade has been a total disaster. Sale had a stellar 2017 campaign in which he finished second in American League Cy Young Award voting, while he finished fourth in 2018 – the eighth straight year he finished in the top six – while leading the team to a World Series Championship.
Still, this injury to Sale is a sign that the Red Sox should punt on 2020 and prepare for the future. It was something that they probably should have started doing – and did start doing, to a degree – prior to this news. Now they can focus on it with little pressure moving forward. In a few years, we could look back on this as a key moment for the Boston Red Sox franchise.