Recently we brought to your attention the cautionary tale of the Baltimore Orioles and Chris Davis. You remember, it’s the one where the Major League club bends over backwards to reward a veteran with a $161 million deal, even though there are things about the player that likely warranted deeper thought before plunging into the depths of financial obligation.
Davis is the slugger who recently snapped an 0-for-53 streak – the longest in MLB history – that had the cynics cackling about the absurdity of giving a human strikeout machine that kind of cash and security.
Of course, Davis is just the latest poster boy detailing how much risk teams take when they commit so much guaranteed money without any idea if the player will perform up to the club’s expectations.
Well, another potential example of this has bubbled to the surface and it involves the World Champion Boston Red Sox and ace left-handed starter Chris Sale. The Sox, whose payroll is the fattest in the game, made Sale a very rich man a few weeks ago by signing him to a five-year $145 million extension that doesn’t even begin until next season.
He has repaid them by absolutely sucking this season.
On Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, Sale was in the middle of a disastrous 8-0 loss to the rival New York Yankees in the first of a two-game series that will end Wednesday night in the Bronx.
Yankee hitters teed him up for four runs in five innings. That got Sale started on his fourth loss of the season and ramped his ERA up to 8.50. Sale had lost four games during the entire 2018 season.
Sale is a realist. He called his performance flat-out embarrassing, which was good to hear because it absolutely was. The last thing you want to hear from a guy like him is the hitters were hitting good pitches and we should tip our caps to them and blah, blah, blah.
“I just flat-out stink right now,” Sale said. “I don’t know what it is. When you’re going good, it’s good. When you’re going bad, it’s pretty bad.”
Sale came into the game on six days’ rest, so fatigue wasn’t a problem. And he rolled through the first two innings, his fastball snapping through the zone at about 97 mph.
Then things started to flatline in the third inning with a pair of RBI singles and Clint Frazier homered off Sale in the fourth inning. That was the fifth homer Sale had allowed in 18 innings this season.
We’re not trying to say that Sale is washed up. Hardly. He’s only 30. But we’d like to think the Red Sox truly considered the shoulder problems that sidelined him last season and toyed with his velocity this spring.
Giving him $145 million was an extraordinary leap of faith and right now it looks like an astonishing boondoggle.
“Doesn’t matter how hard you throw or how fancy it looks,” Sale said. “You need to throw up zeros.”
Sale’s performance has mirrored that of his team. The Sox came into Wednesday’s game 6-12. That’s good enough for last place in the AL East where they are 7 ½ games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox didn’t lose their 12th game in 2018 until May 11th.
“I know who we are, the guys we’ve got in this group, we’re resilient, we’re going to keep fighting,” Sale said. “Not going to hang our heads obviously. We know where we’re at, we know we need to pick it up. At the end of the day, we’ll keep grinding. Probably getting worn out, but what else can we do. Keep fighting, keep working, keep grinding and hopefully, it will turn.”
Boston’s team ERA is 6.09 and the staff has allowed an MLB-leading 114 runs which have contributed to a minus-40 run differential, the worst in the AL. The Elias Sports Bureau says this is the worst Red Sox starting ERA through 18 games ever. The previous mark was 6.96 in 1931.
“I don’t want to say it’s a work in progress, because we’re not here to build up,” Cora said. “I’m not going to be surprised if, in his next outing, he’s right where we need him to be. … He’s very close to the ‘real’ Chris Sale.”
Said Sale: “You’d better f—ing hope so.”
The numbers tell us Sale is struggling like he never has in his 10 seasons. Coming into the year his career ERA was 2.89 with 1,789 strikeouts in 1,482 1/3 innings.
Question: When will teams smarten up and realize it doesn’t pay to pay a guy for what he did in the past. You pay him for what he can do for you in the future. And this is especially true for pitchers.
“I’ve got to find a way to pitch better,” Sale said. “This is flat-out embarrassing. For my family, for my team, for our fans. This is about as bad as it gets. I have to pitch better. I keep saying the same things, but at the end of the day, you go out there and give up four runs here, five runs here, seven runs here. If I get into the sixth or seventh inning like I should — that’s who I am.
“I’m supposed to pitch into the sixth, seventh, eighth inning, finish games and stuff like that, save our bullpen, cut it off when we’re losing and keep winning streaks going. That’s not who I’ve been.”