The Red Sox announced Tuesday that lefty Chris Sale suffered a fractured right wrist “during a bicycle accident on Saturday, August 6.” The injury required surgery that will end Sale’s 2022 season. He’s expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training.
It’s the latest setback in a mounting pile of injuries for Sale, who has made just 11 starts while playing under the five-year, $145MM contract extension he signed back in March 2019. (The contract began with the 2020 season despite being signed in 2019, as Sale was already under contract for the ’19 season.) Since putting pen to paper on that contract, Sale has missed time with elbow inflammation that eventually culminated in Tommy John surgery, plus a stress reaction in his rib cage and a fractured pinkie finger incurred on a comebacker earlier this summer. Overall, he’s pitched just 48 1/3 innings in the regular season through the contract’s first three years (plus another nine frames in the 2021 postseason).
A healthy Sale is, of course, one of the sport’s most dominant talents. From 2012-18, Sale made seven consecutive All-Star Games and never finished lower than sixth in American League Cy Young voting. Along the way, he pitched to a collective 2.91 ERA in 1388 innings, averaging 30 starts and 198 frames per regular season (plus another 25 postseason innings with Boston). Sale came on in relief and punched out Justin Turner, future teammate Enrique Hernandez and Manny Machado in order to close out Boston’s 2018 World Series victory over the Dodgers, capping off the franchise’s fourth championship since the “curse-breaking” 2004 season.
It’s been mostly downhill for Sale since, as he’s battled fluke injuries and taken some deserved flak for being caught on film destroying a clubhouse television after getting an early hook during a Triple-A rehab game earlier this summer. This latest injury will bring Sale’s 2022 campaign to a close after just 5 2/3 innings.
Sale will turn 34 next March, so it’s still plenty feasible that he can return to form and serve as a foundational piece for the Sox moving forward. He averaged 94.9 mph with his heater during this year’s tiny sample of 5 2/3 frames — right in line (actually slightly better than) his average fastball during that aforementioned seven-year run of dominance between Chicago and Boston.
Given the recent rash of injuries, the Sox surely won’t be banking on 30-plus starts out of Sale, but at the same time, his contract leaves them little choice but to hope for the best. With Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha all set to hit free agency at season’s end, Sale and righty Nick Pivetta are the only Sox starters who can be penciled into next year’s group. Lefty James Paxton could potentially be in that mix as well; his contract has a pair of $13MM club options for the 2023-24 seasons that must be exercised simultaneously at season’s end. The team almost certainly won’t be taking their end of the deal — Paxton has yet to pitch in 2022 — but Paxton also has a $4MM player option for next season in the event that those club options are declined. Suffice it to say, rotation stability will be a point of emphasis for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom this winter.