Chris Sale Showing Ominous Early Signs of $145M Red Sox Mistake

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2019

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 09: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox returns to the dugout after pitching during the second inning of the Red Sox home opening game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on April 09, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

"I just flat-out stink right now," Boston Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale told reporters after he coughed up four runs in five innings against the New York Yankees on Tuesday.

It's hard to argue.

To put it in perspective, Sale's substandard showing against the archrival Yanks in the Bronx actually lowered his 2019 ERA...to 8.50.

"I don't know what it is," Sale added. "When you're going good, it's good. When you're going bad, it's pretty bad."

Here's an extended version of his remarks, via the YES Network:

The Red Sox entered play Thursday with a 6-13 record and 8.5 games out of first place in the American League East. The defending World Series champions are wobbling, to say the least, and their starting rotation is at baseball's rock bottom with a 6.70 ERA.

There are other culprits. Rick Porcello has coughed up 19 runs in 11.1 innings. Eduardo Rodriguez (7.98 ERA) and Nathan Eovaldi (6.00 ERA) haven't exactly channeled the spirit of Satchel Paige.

Sale, though, is supposed to be the rotation anchor. The stopper. The Guy, capital "G." The Man, capital "M."

That became especially true after he signed a five-year, $145 million extension with Boston this winter. 

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"Everyone knows how good he is and what he brings to the table, not only on the field but off the field," Sox skipper Alex Cora told reporters at the time. "He's one of the best."

If we're gazing backward, there's no case against Cora's analysis.

Sale made the All-Star team and finished in the top six in AL Cy Young Award voting every season from 2012 to 2018, mostly with the Chicago White Sox, who dealt him to the Red Sox in December 2016.

Last season, he averaged 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings and posted a 2.11 ERA, and Boston hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy. Sale was entering his contract year.

Extension? You bet!

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after the final out was recorded to win the 2018 World Series in game five against the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 28, 2018 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo b
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Then again, Sale had shoulder trouble and threw a full-season career-low 158 frames. It's worth wondering if those injury woes are cropping up again.

Here's an unnamed opposing scout's analysis, per NESN.com's Dakota Randall:

"I know they're kind of slow-playing Sale and he's holding back a little with the [velocity], but watching him, there's a lot of shoulder involved [in his delivery]. In the past, he was more free and whip-like and he wasn't getting that same extension at the end. That tells me that he's got some discomfort in the shoulder area."

That's one person's anonymous opinion. But the velocity drop is real. Sale's average fastball has fallen to 92.8 mph from a career average of 94.7, per FanGraphs. That's not a death knell, especially after Sale touched 97.5 in his outing against New York, but it's not a positive sign.

He's also allowing hard contact at a 33.3 percent rate compared to a career rate of 27.6 percent. Again, a negative indicator.

He's throwing softer overall. He's getting hit harder. Rival observers think his shoulder isn't right. Suddenly, the Red Sox's $145 million investment in a guy who will be 35 when the deal is over is looking like a treacherous roll of the dice.

If Sale and Boston don't do an about-face, they could even end up swapping some stars, if you listen to left-hander David Price.

"If we don't start playing better, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, maybe myself, we could get traded," Price said, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. "We're, what, 30th in minor league systems?"

FORT MYERS, FL- FEBRUARY 14:  Chris Sale #41 and David Price #24 of the Boston Red Sox take the field during the first official day of workouts for pitchers and catchers on February 14, 2017 at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida.   (Photo by Michael Ivin
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

He's right about the squad's MiLB ranking by Bleacher Report's estimation. The notion that the Sox will jettison key cogs to add prospects one season after bathing in champagne and confetti is dubious, bordering on absurd.

But Price's sentiment speaks to the uncertainty that clearly permeates Boston's clubhouse. And Sale is probably the biggest, highest-paid reason for said uncertainty.

Let's repeat the quote: "I just flat-out stink right now."

Sale was speaking for himself...but he was speaking for the Red Sox, too.

                    

All statistics current entering play Thursday and courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.