Red Sox

Chris Sale’s Tommy John scare the perfect moment for Red Sox to punt on 2020

Their margin for success this season is obviously thin, whether the lefty needs surgery or not.

Chris Sale Xander Bogaerts Red Sox
Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts have both been delayed this spring for the Red Sox. Sale's delay, it turns out, might be until 2021. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

COMMENTARY

Hey, you’ve got it easy. You can just not watch the Red Sox this season.

And frankly, every second they spend worried whether or not you’re watching takes away from the rich future that Chaim Bloom’s trying to build.

There really wasn’t much for Bloom to say on Tuesday, Boston’s chief baseball officer is waiting like the rest of us. Chris Sale couldn’t get through 15 pitches on Sunday without needing an MRI afterward, and that those 15 pitches led to another chat with Dr. James Andrews certainly suggests the lefty’s 2020 season is in significant doubt.

These are, however, the 2020 “Reserve Judgment” Red Sox (it’s no “Damage Done,” but I’ve seen worse designs on the racks at Ocean State Job Lot). As such, most everyone stuck to platitudes, Bloom’s at least saying a mouthful.

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“I think it’s fair to say there have been a few more challenges than I thought when I first met you guys four months ago,” Bloom told reporters on Tuesday.

We needn’t go through all of it again, that we’re still somehow just 14 months from Alex Cora boasting, “Wait till this year!” in the afterglow of 119 wins. The limited comfort of those 2018 memories today still beats the alternative; being the Yankees and Dodgers, still desperate for the temporary “get out of jail free” card one trophy provides.

This much seems obvious: If Chris Sale needs Tommy John surgery on his elbow, finishing his 2020 season (and at least a sliver of his 2021) before it starts, Bloom and the Red Sox should rip off the Band-Aid. Make clear that Jackie Bradley Jr. (in his last year before free agency) and J.D. Martinez (essentially so, with an opt-out before his annual salary drops more than $4 million this winter) are available for purchase. Give the Padres another call about Wil Myers and “buying” prospects. Do whatever it takes to make 2020 a foundation for the seasons down the road.

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A starting rotation of Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, and an appetizer sampler was debatably contention worthy before Sale threw those 15 pitches of live batting practice. One without Sale at the top certainly isn’t, and pretending to your fanbase is a waste of all our time. (Perez not finishing an inning against the Yankees on Tuesday was the cherry on the sundae.)

I’m growing convinced we needn’t wait on the diagnosis, though.

It’s debatable what value there is to be squeezed. Xander Bogaerts at $20 million annually through 2026 — he can opt-out after the 2022 season — is a foundation piece. Rafael Devers, who homered off top Yankees prospect Clarke Schmidt on Tuesday, should be one. That leaves … closer Brandon Workman and setup guy Matt Barnes? The cromulent Andrew Benintendi?

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That’s for Bloom to figure out, because Dave Dombrowski and his bosses couldn’t navigate that problem the Dodgers and Yankees are desperate for: The post-championship transition.

Our sports are designed to convince every fanbase that their team can contend and win a title this year. They’re all about parity, about crushing the superteam, and some do it better than others. Hockey’s “loser point” for teams beaten after regulation helps sub-.500 squads contend for and make the playoffs. Heck, the playoffs period are about keeping inferior teams in the mix, which is why football and baseball would love nothing more than to expand them.

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The teams that actually win, though? They get a different problem: How to deal with players now anointed legendary status. In 2004, the Red Sox famously let a slew of title winners go, from longtime stalwarts Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe to key rentals Orlando Cabrera and Dave Roberts. That’s a hard sell, and a rare move.

Usually, you get the 2007, where they bowed to public pressure, brought back Mike Lowell, and got far less than what they paid for. Or, the 2018, where the Red Sox brought back their rental Eovaldi, brought back their stalwart Sale, and would gladly today sign up for what Boston got out of that latter Lowell deal in either case.

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Eovaldi had spent time on the disabled list for four straight seasons when the Red Sox gave him $68 million in December 2018. That streak’s now at five, but there was at least an argument to be made they were immediately chasing another championship. Similarly, as it was put at the time of Sale’s extension, “it improves our chances of winning as opposed to not having Chris Sale.”

Who said that? David Price, who would’ve had Sale on his team for his final Red Sox season regardless. And for whom future Boston concerns are limited to dumping on the place.

Sale was under contract for 2019 and already a durability question when the Red Sox raced to give him $145 million for his age 31-35 seasons. For a region rarely unable to invent things to worry about, first guessing of the deal was remarkably light.

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Alas, here we are anyway, back in our comfortable place. The same place we always seem to be: Thinking about losing Jon Lester.

Price? He was here at all as the makeup for losing Lester to the Cubs 12 months prior in December 2014. Sale? He got his extension last spring about a month after Henry talked openly about how the Red Sox “blew it” in their early extension negotiations with Lester, drawing a clear connection between the two lefties who’d proven they could thrive in the competitive tenor of the Boston market.

Mookie Betts did that as well, and it’s not terribly hard to watch him already impressing with his addition of leadership to a Dodgers team yet to win the big one and imagine he’ll be the mistake the 2024 Red Sox are seeking not to repeat. That’s a problem for future Bloom, though.

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One this season, even if Chris Sale’s not destined for a surgeon’s table, he should spend the rest of this year almost exclusively trying to solve.

It’s not a mandate, of course. But it’s an achievable goal, a list that seems shorter by the day in regards to his 2020 squad.

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