Red Sox’ Chris Sale on Handling Criticism: ‘I’ve Never Paid Attention to What People Say About Me, Because It Doesn’t Matter’

Red Sox ace left-hander Chris Sale underwent successful Tommy John surgery seven weeks ago.

Before Tuesday, the 31-year-old had only spoken to the media once since undergoing the procedure in Los Angeles, but he spoke with ESPN’s Mary Rivera in an extensive one-on-one, presumably over-phone interview earlier this week.

Topics covered in said interview included Sale’s recovery from Tommy John, criticism from fans over his contract, the Red Sox trading Mookie Betts and David Price, thoughts on a disappointing 2019 season, the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017, and Alex Cora’s departure from Boston.

You can read Rivera’s conversation with Sale in full here, but I wanted to hit on a few highlights, starting with the Florida native being asked if it’s “hard to handle the criticism” from people who believe he has not lived up to expectations under his new contract.

“When I got to Boston, my first year was really good,” Sale said. “My second season was decent but I ran into some shoulder issues. We ended up winning a World Series, so I’d even call that a relatively good season with a little hiccup. Then, 2019 was an absolute disaster. But in the end, I’ve never paid attention to what people say about me, because it doesn’t matter.”

Prior to the start of the 2019 season, Sale inked a five-year, $145 million contract extension with the Red Sox while Dave Dombrowski still served as the club’s president of baseball operations.

Dombrowski has since been removed from that post and was effectively replaced by former Rays executive and current chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, whose first major move at the helm in Boston was dealing Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers in February.

That sort of transaction, which significantly hindered the Red Sox’ chances of winning in 2020, could have upset a veteran like Sale, whose first priority is to win no matter who he plays for, but he did not seem to take too much offense to it.

“Very rarely in this day and age, you get to play with the same team for a long time,” Sale told Rivera. “We have to adapt and go with it. We don’t make decisions; we don’t trade players. We show up to spring training and we do our best to win with the players we have.”

At the time Betts and Price were dealt to Los Angeles, the 2020 MLB season really wasn’t in question. That has obviously changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, and Sale isn’t too sure there will even be a season at all. Not like that matters much for him anyway since he is still recovering from Tommy John.

It still is a concerning matter for players who can play this year though, and Sale certainly feels for them while the MLBPA remains in active negotiations with the league.

“There’s too many moving parts with all this right now,” he said in regard to getting baseball back this year. “There’s obviously negotiations between the players and the owners, and that’s what I hope we can iron out sooner rather than later. On my end of it, I’m not missing any games that everyone else isn’t missing. Plus, I’m not getting paid, so no one can call me an overpaid asshole right now [laughs].”

For the time being, Sale will continue the process of coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’s been one of the few players to work out at Fenway South in Fort Myers since the complex opened back up earlier in the month.

“I’ve been doing a shoulder program and we’re doing soft-tissue stuff but I’m starting to get into some pushing stuff, some rows,” Sale said of the rehab process. “A lot of this actually is a lot of shoulder work too, which is good.

“We can kind of start, as they say, tearing it down to the studs. I can work from the ground up. I can completely tear my body down and build it back up. Right now, since I’m not really working out to achieve anything, I can really focus on the little fine details that sometimes might be overlooked getting ready for a big, bulky season. I love the guys I’m working with and I know I’m in good hands.”

If all goes according to plan, Sale should be able to return to a big league mound sometime in June or July 2021.

Former Red Sox Ace Jon Lester Open to Reunion With Organization He Began Career With

Former Red Sox ace and current Cubs left-hander Jon Lester is open to a potential reunion with Boston this winter, he said in a radio interview with WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

Lester, who turns 37 in January, is entering the final year of the six-year, $155 million deal he signed with Chicago back in December 14. That contract includes a $25 million vesting option for 2021 if Lester were to pitch 200 innings this year or 400 innings between the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Even if those numbers wind up getting prorated due to the coronavirus-induced shutdown, it seems unlikely that he would reach that mark, thus making him a free agent later in the year.

“We’ve got a lot of what-if’s going on right now,” Lester told Bradford. “For me, I don’t know what is going to happen next year. I know I have the team option, the player option, that sort of thing. We’ll figure that out one way or the other. I will either be here or be a free agent. Obviously everything is open. I’m open-minded to anything.”

Drafted by Boston in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft out of Bellarmine High School in Tacoma, Wa., Lester won two World Series titles and made two All-Star teams in his first go-around with the Red Sox.

As you may recall, Sox brass famously low-balled Lester in the spring of 2014 as he was nearing free agency and coming off a 2013 campaign in which he was an All-Star, helped Boston win another World Series, and finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting.

At that time, principal owner John Henry and Co. offered the lefty a four-year, $70 million extension, good for an average annual value of $15 million.

Even after publicly expressing that he’d be willing to take a discount to keep the Red Sox as competitive as possible, that offer was still downright disrespectful, to be blunt. Especially when Lester had just seen the Yankees sign international free agent Masahiro Tanaka, then 25, to a seven-year, $155 million contract that January.

So after botching those extension talks, the Red Sox wound up dealing Lester to the Oakland Athletics prior to the 2014 trade deadline, and the Washington native went on to sign that aforementioned six-year deal with the Cubs a few months later.

As productive as Lester has been since joining the North Siders, his 2019 campaign was not the most memorable.

Starting 31 games, Lester posted a 4.46 ERA and 4.35 xFIP over 171 2/3 innings of work. Not terrible numbers by any means, but it certainly would appear that the southpaw is on the decline at this stage in his career.

Preferably, Lester would like to prove that last year was just a blip and not the way things are trending for him, but his chances to do that are growing slimmer and slimmer as each day passes with no plan for a 2020 season in place.

“On a personal level, this hurts me,” he said of the shutdown. “I’m not getting any younger and coming off a year like I had last year, this isn’t going to help me.”

Because of that uncertainty, I’m sure Lester has had more time to think about different things while waiting this pandemic out from his Georgia home, and it certainly seems like returning to Boston has crossed his mind more than once.

“Absolutely it would be cool to go back and finish my career where it all started,” he said. “But, I’ve got a little time before I really have to sit down and weigh that decision, even if it’s something where they want me back. Hopefully, I’m still a good enough caliber pitcher that the want of my services will still be out there for people. We’ll see.”

We will have to wait and see. I mean, who knows what the market for a veteran 37-year-old left-hander with 2,500+ innings under his belt will look like come free agency? How much would Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom be willing to dish out for someone like that if he feels like Lester fits a team need? Both are unknowns at this point in time.

Red Sox Renew Rafael Devers’ Contract for 2020 Season After Both Sides Fail to Reach Agreement

The Red Sox and third baseman Rafael Devers were unable to reach an agreement on a figure for his 2020 salary, meaning the club instead renewed the 23-year-old’s contract for the coming season.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, Devers will earn approximately $692,5000 this year, about a 13% raise from the $614,500 he made in 2019.

The 2020 campaign will mark Devers’ final season before he becomes arbitration eligible next winter. From this point forward, the Dominican Republic native is under team control for four more years before he reaches free agency for the first time at the conclusion of the 2023 season.

Going back to late last September, it was reported by WEEI’s Rob Bradford that the Red Sox were planning on offering Devers a contract extension at some point during the offseason.

Since that time, as we know, the club had quite the winter, hiring Chaim Bloom as chief baseball officer in October, parting ways with Alex Cora in January, and trading Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers and naming Ron Roenicke interim manager in February.

Those factors, in addition to the mandate of getting under the $208 million luxury tax threshold, more than likely pushed extension talks with Devers further down the to-do list.

“If it comes, it comes,” Devers said, through translator Bryan Almonte, of a potential contract extension. “That would be great. But I’m just focused on right now. We haven’t had discussions about that yet. My agent hasn’t told me anything. As of now, I’m just focused on playing the game.”

Devers is coming off a season in which he finished 12th in American League Most Valuable Player voting after slashing .311/.361/.555 with 32 home runs and 115 RBI over 156 games played in 2019.

In addition to renewing Devers’ contract on Monday, the Red Sox also reached agreements with 19 other pre-arbitration players on one-year deals for the 2020 season.

Those 19 players are Jonathan Arauz, Yoan Aybar, Ryan Brasier, Colten Brewer, Austin Brice, C.J. Chatham, Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, Matt Hall, Kyle Hart, Darwinzon Hernandez, Tzu-Wei Lin, Chris Mazza, Mike Shawaryn, Josh Taylor, Alex Verdugo, Marcus Walden, Ryan Weber, and Marcus Wilson.

Verdugo, the centerpiece in the Betts and Price trade, will earn $601,500 in 2020, per Speier.

 

Former Red Sox Top Prospect Yoan Moncada Signs Five-Year, $70 Million Extension With White Sox

Former Red Sox top prospect Yoan Moncada has reportedly signed a five-year, $70 million contract extension with the Chicago White Sox, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

The extension includes a $20 million club option for a sixth year, meaning the 24-year-old would not reach free agency until after his age-30 season.

Moncada enjoyed a great deal of success in a breakout 2019 campaign, slashing .315/.367/.548 with a career-best 25 home runs and 79 RBI over 132 games in his third season with Chicago.

The news of this extension comes on the same day that the Red Sox revealed that Chris Sale has a flexor tendon strain in his left elbow and will be shut down for at least the next week, which is pretty interesting when you consider that Moncada was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Sale to Boston a little more than three years ago.

We’re also coming up on the five-year anniversary of the Red Sox signing Moncada as an international free agent out of Cuba in March 2015 for a staggering $31.5 million.

Moncada quickly rose to become one of the top prospects in all of baseball while in the Red Sox organization, and after making his major-league debut and having a tough time of things during the final month of the 2016 season, he, along with prospects Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz, was traded for Sale that December.

Since that time, it was no surefire thing that Moncada was going to be a big league success with the White Sox. OPS+’s of 103 and 96 in 2017 and 2018 led many to believe that he was over-hyped, but the Cuban national took the first steps towards proving those doubters wrong in 2019.

We already talked about his improved slash line last year, but it is also worth mentioning how much Moncada cut down on his strikeouts. For instance, in 650 plate appearances in 2018, he struck out a league-leading 217 times, or 33.4% of the time he stepped up to the plate.

A year later, he dropped that strikeout rate by nearly six points, instead whiffing in 27.5% of his 559 plate appearances this past season.

Durability remains somewhat of an issue as well, but as he enters his age-25 season, Moncada could really just be coming into his own as a star in the American League Central, both offensively and defensively speaking.

You also have to give credit to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and the young core of talented players he has locked down on long-term, pre-arbitration extensions.

In addition to Moncada, outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert also signed lengthy contract extensions within the last calendar year. The three together are set to earn approximately $163 million over the next five to six years.

Add the lengths of all their contracts, a total of 17 years, and that’s less than $10 million in average annual value, if that makes any sense.

It hasn’t come with much team success to this point, but the White Sox do look like they could be legitimate contenders in the Central very soon.

Bringing this back to the Red Sox, it’s also probably worth mentioning that this Moncada extension could lay the groundwork for Boston to get one done with their own third baseman in Rafael Devers.

Coming into the 2020 season, the two infielders essentially have the same amount of service time, with Moncada having been in the majors 36 more days than Devers has to this point.

The two came through the Sox’ minor league system together and were both going to become arbitration eligible for the first time next year before Moncada signed his extension on Thursday.

I doubt the Red Sox would want to pay Devers more than the ≈ $800,000 he is owed this coming season, but if chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could find a way to work something out long-term and buy out any number of the 23-year-old’s potential free agent years after 2023, that would be quite promising.

Anyway, I would just like to close by saying that I have always been a big Yoan Moncada guy. I’m not going to get into who won or lost the 2016 trade between the Red Sox and White Sox, but I have enjoyed watching Moncada come into his own at the big-league level. Hoping for more improvement from him this season.

Red Sox’ Chris Sale Has Flexor Strain

Red Sox ace left-hander Chris Sale has a flexor tendon strain in his left elbow, according to interim manager Ron Roenicke.

This news comes one day after Sale received a third opinion from Dr. Neil ElAttrache, after already getting a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, in regard to the MRI of his sore left elbow.

Since his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) was “unchanged”, Sale has at least avoided surgery for the time being, as it was not recommended by either doctor. Instead, he has been prescribed rest and will not throw again for another week or so.

After that period of rest, Sale will begin throwing again and will need to be pain free while doing so. If he does still feel the same pain in his left elbow he experienced last year, then it might be time to assume the worst-case scenario.

“It sucks,” Sale said Thursday. “I know what I’m worth to this team and I don’t want to do anything stupid.”

The soon-to-be 31-year-old was already set to miss about the first two weeks of the 2020 season due to an earlier bout with pneumonia, but this setback will surely push his return date back even further depending on how things go at the end of next week.

This all comes as Sale enters the first year of the five-year, $145 million extension he signed with Boston last March. He will earn $25.6 million in 2020.

 

Red Sox Win Arbitration Case With Eduardo Rodriguez

The Red Sox have won their arbitration case with left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The club will pay Rodriguez $8.3 million this season, not the $8.975 million he filed for last month.

Rodriguez, who turns 27 in April, is coming off a breakout campaign last year after posting a 3.81 ERA and 3.86 FIP over a career-best 34 starts and career-best 203 1/3 innings pitched. That was solid enough to earn him a sixth-place finish in American League Cy Young voting.

The Venezuela native was one of only two Sox players who remained unsigned going back to the deadline to exchange arbitration figures last month.

The other player, Andrew Benintendi, agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract extension with Boston last week that essentially buys out his first two seasons of arbitration eligibility.

By earning $8.3 million in 2020, Rodriguez will become the third-highest paid pitcher on the club’s active roster. He is eligible to become a free agent for the first time following the 2021 season.

Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi Agree to Two-Year Extension to Avoid Arbitration

The Red Sox have signed outfielder Andrew Benintendi to a two-year, $10 million extension through the 2021 season, thus avoiding salary arbitration. The club made the signing official earlier Saturday.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, Benintendi’s new contract is worth $10 million, so the 25-year-old will presumably earn $5 million per season the next two years.

Benintendi had been one of the two Sox players who were eligible for salary arbitration before Saturday, with left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez being the other.

By essentially buying out his first two arbitration years, this move should create more payroll flexibility for Boston next year since they would not have to bump up Benintendi’s salary.

2019 was a bit of a disappointment for Benintendi, as he slashed .266/.343/.431 with 13 home runs and 72 RBI over 138 games while playing inconsistent defense in left field.

Still, the former 2015 first-round pick did show flashes reminiscent of his breakout form in 2018 and is a prime bounce-back candidate for this coming season.

It’s been a fascinating last few days for Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox to say the least, but at least they were able to get this done in the midst of everything else going on.