John Tomase

Revisiting the Chris Sale trade, which Red Sox will never regret

Chris Sale is off to a hot start in Atlanta, but Boston still made the right call.

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I don't care if Chris Sale wins 25 games and the NL Cy Young Award. I don't care if he no-hits the Red Sox. Trading him for Vaughn Grissom will always be the right move. No second guesses here.

The Red Sox face their old teammate on Wednesday, and he is off to a predictably strong start with the Braves, who could afford to employ him as a luxury rather than a necessity.

Sale can thrive in the former role. As the Red Sox learned over the last three seasons, it's a dereliction of roster construction to count on him to be any kind of savior.

Sale is 3-1 with a 3.44 ERA and Red Sox fans will recognize his repertoire. He's pushing 95 mph again and still corkscrewing right-handed hitters with back-foot sliders. That pitch, in fact, looks every bit as nasty as the one he threw in his early Red Sox days.

Though your tolerance for his various acts of self-immolation every time he got hurt may have varied, I found Sale's desire to earn his money genuine. It became tempting to label him all talk as the injuries grew more absurd (see: bike, fell off of). There's only so many ways he could say, "I suck and I'm letting everyone down," before it became white noise. Just because I stopped quoting him didn't mean I stopped believing him.

But at some point, hoping he would front your rotation counted only as an act of stubborn denial, his inevitable injury the obvious M. Night Shyamalan plot twist we saw coming from Acadia. From the Tommy John surgery he delayed for months that ended up costing him all of 2020, to the Instagram Live broken rib, to the bad-luck busted pinkie, to the absurd bike accident that broke his wrist, it was always something.

And it would always be something, no matter how encouraged he felt in spring training, no matter how relieved he was to finally be his old self again, blah blah blah.

So credit to new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow for doing what predecessor Chaim Bloom could not and dumping Sale when he had the chance. Bloom famously passed on a deal that would've sent the left-hander and most of his contract to the Rangers a couple of years ago, perpetually fearful that he wouldn't receive adequate value if Sale somehow regained the form that made him a singular force for more than a decade.

It should've been obvious that no one would ever regret trading Sale, especially not in the middle of a five-year, $145 million extension that goes down as one of the worst in Red Sox history. During the first four years of that deal, Sale made 31 starts, or fewer than eight per year. He went 11-7, which Cooper Criswell conceivably could give them one of these years. Dave Dombrowski didn't deserve to lose his job, but the Sale deal goes down as a notable misfire.

That the Red Sox received Grissom in return could be a win, though it's not without risk. The young second baseman with a lifetime .320 average in the minors might win a batting title. Or he might prove a defensive liability who can't stay up the middle, severely limiting his value. The Braves moved on in part because he could not win their shortstop job when given the chance.

At least he can be a piece of some plausible Red Sox future, perhaps forming a double play combo with Marcelo Mayer down the road when the Red Sox plan to contend again. I would bet on that before I'd bet on Sale still being around to help in this or any October.

Maybe it will be a different story in Atlanta, where the Braves would still win 100 games if Sale got hit by a seagull tomorrow. But somehow I doubt it. He produced one legitimately great season in Boston when he struck out over 300, and one legitimately great moment when he struck out Manny Machado to end the 2018 World Series.

Otherwise, it was just one thing after another. So let's wish him well in his new home, and not look back.

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