Even though left-hander Chris Sale is slated to throw off a mound later this month for the first since undergoing Tommy John surgery last March, the Red Sox could be taking things slow with the starting pitcher’s rehab, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.
Sale, who turns 32 in March, last pitched in a big-league game on August 13, 2019.
The Florida native signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension — which includes an opt-out after 2022 and a vesting option for 2025 — with Boston shortly before the start of the 2019 season.
Because of the money they have invested in him, the Red Sox, writes Olney, “would love for Sale to come back and be a factor at some point in 2021, [but are more] apt to take a conservative approach.”
Put another way, “the pace for [Sale’s] return from Tommy John surgery is expected to be deliberate, according to sources.”
As Olney notes, pitchers typically take anywhere from 12 to 15 months to recover from the elbow reconstruction that is Tommy John surgery.
With that time frame in mind, Sale, in theory, could be on track for a June or July return to the mound this coming season, especially given the hurler’s drive.
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said as much when speaking with reporters back in November.
“With Chris, we’re still looking at a midsummer return to have him fully stretched out as a starter,” said Bloom. “But everything continues going along with that. Arm’s doing great, which is awesome.”
While Sale’s arm may be “doing great” at the moment, there is a legitimate possibility that the Red Sox would not want to rush the seven-time All-Star back too soon given the fact he is still under contract for at least two more seasons, and likely more.
“Both the team and the pitcher have reason to take a long view on his recovery,” Olney wrote earlier Monday. “The bulk of the left-hander’s production for the Red Sox will happen in the last three years of the deal.”
Per Spotrac, Sale is set to earn $30 million in 2021 as well as $30 million in 2022, $27.5 million in 2023, and another $27.5 million in 2024. Good for a hefty sum of $85 million over the final three years of his contract. He has a full no-trade clause included in there as well.
Taking the idea that Sale’s time table could be pushed back further than initially expected, Boston may need to do even more to address their starting rotation needs between now and the start of the 2021 season.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora touched upon this issue when appearing on MLB Network Radio over the weekend.
“I think being deeper means the world this year,” said Cora. “You come from a short season and all of a sudden you’re asking these guys to perform at the high levels for a lot of innings. So you’ve gotta be careful. So we’re trying to do that and at the same time, compete at the highest level on a daily basis.”
Last year, Boston starters put up the second-worst ERA in baseball (5.34) while finishing second-to-last in innings pitched (246). As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, “that’s a 162-game pace of just 664.2 innings.”
(Picture of Chris Sale: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)