In one of the least-surprising opt-out decisions in recent memory, left-hander Chris Sale has informed the Red Sox that he will not exercise the opt-out clause in his five-year, $145MM contract, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom tells Alex Speier of the Boston Globe.
There’s never been any real thought that Sale was a candidate to opt out of the remaining two years and $55MM on that ill-fated extension. He pitched just 5 2/3 innings with the Sox this season and, over the first three years of the agreement, has tallied just 48 1/3 innings through 11 starts. Sale underwent Tommy John surgery in March of 2020 and thus missed the entirety of that year’s truncated season.
The recovery from that Tommy John procedure sidelined him into August of 2021, and his 2022 season was derailed by a series of bizarre injuries; Sale was shelved for the beginning of the 2022 season due to a stress reaction in his ribcage, and he suffered a broken pinkie finger upon being hit by a comebacker shortly after returning. The Red Sox announced in early August that Sale had fractured his wrist in a bicycle accident and would miss the remainder of the season.
It’s been a nightmare start to the contract extension for the Red Sox, although this year’s slate of injuries, in particular, seem fluky in nature. To Sale’s credit, in the small amount of time he’s been healthy enough to take the mound during the first three years of the extension, he’s been excellent. In those 48 1/3 innings, Sale owns a 3.17 ERA with a strong 27.4%% strikeout rate against a tidy 6.3% walk rate. Inning-for-inning, that’s largely the type of performance the Sox were hoping for — but Sale’s body has not held up.
Looking ahead, the Sox have little choice but to hope Sale can get healthy and finally reclaim a spot near the front of their rotation. The lefty’s contract has zero trade value at present, and even if it did, Sale has full veto power over any potential trade by virtue of his 10-and-5 rights (ten years of Major League service time, including at least the past five with the same team).
The 33-year-old Sale (34 in March) is but one of many question marks for the Boston rotation. Nick Pivetta is the only largely established starting option for the Sox heading into 2023. Top prospect Brayan Bello could vie for a spot but didn’t quite seize one in this year’s rookie effort (57 1/3 innings, 4.71 ERA — albeit with better secondary marks). Righty Garrett Whitlock has obvious rotation potential but has thus far been shuttled between the starting staff and the bullpen. Fellow righties Kutter Crawford, Josh Winckowski and Connor Seabold were all hit hard as rookies in 2022.
Suffice it to say, with Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill all set to become free agents and Sale more or less a complete question mark, starting pitching will be one of the main focuses for the Red Sox this offseason. It won’t be their sole pursuit, however, as the Sox also potentially stand to lose Xander Bogaerts to free agency and still hope to extend slugger Rafael Devers, who is set to reach the open market following the 2023 campaign.
Including Sale’s weighty salary, the Sox have $86.72MM committed to next year’s books, although that’s counting a $20MM salary for Bogaerts, who is certain to opt out of his contract’s final three seasons. Boston also has nearly $40MM in projected arbitration salaries and is on the hook for some hefty contractual buyouts — most notably the $8MM yet owed to the since-released Jackie Bradley Jr. They’ll quite possibly be on the hook for James Paxton’s $4MM player option, which he’ll have the ability to exercise once the Sox make the easy call to decline his two-year, $26MM club option.