BOSTON -- It turns out Dave Dombrowski flunked a test with only wrong answers, unless you count nihilism, and who chooses that? It would be like sitting for the SATs and immediately setting the Scantron sheet on fire.
Was Dombrowski really supposed to walk away from every member of a World Series-winning rotation? Of course not. But it's looking more and more like he shouldn't have kept any of them, either. That's what Starfleet cadets would call a Kobayashi Maru -- an unwinnable scenario that may very well cost Dombrowski his job.
Saturday's news that erstwhile ace Chris Sale is headed to the injured list with elbow inflammation surely set off the hull breach alarms at Fenway Park. Not only has Sale endured a trying season -- posting the worst record (6-11) and ERA (4.40) of his career -- but his $145 million contract extension doesn't even kick in until next season.
Next on Sale's agenda is a visit Dr. James Andrews, the famed orthopedist. Sometimes those exams yield good news, like when David Price learned about his unique Wolverine elbow, which has mostly held up since 2017. But Andrews is often a harbinger of Tommy John doom, which means we must steel ourselves for the possibility that Sale doesn't pitch again until 2021.
Nothing like writing off Year 1 of a nine-figure investment. The issue extends well beyond Sale, though, because outside of cost-controlled left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, every member of the rotation looks like a bad investment. The Red Sox will feel the repercussions of those decisions for years to come, with the unreliable and overpaid trio of Price, Nathan Eovaldi, and Sale on the books through 2022, 2022, and 2024, respectively.
We can't sit here and say no one saw this coming. Those of us who hated the Sale contract when he signed it this spring pointed to the way last season ended, with the left-hander virtually useless for the final three months because of a shoulder injury. He closed out the World Series, but it's telling that the Red Sox weren't comfortable using him until they had built a four-run lead in the ninth.
Owner John Henry had long opposed long-term contracts for pitchers in their 30s, at least until he blew the John Lester negotiations in 2014. Since then he has committed $217 million to Price, $145 million to Sale, and $68 million to Eovaldi, who doesn't turn 30 until February, but came with more red flags than a Chinese military parade.
Price represents a sunk cost at this point, and at least he played a starring role in last year's title, but the odds of him becoming more durable over the final three years and $96 million of his contract feel remote. His misanthropic behavior has turned off members of the organization at every level, but good luck moving on from that money. Despite his ability, he might as well be radioactive, especially with wrist tightness sending him to the IL and durability concerns following him like Pigpen's cloud of dust.
Then there's Eovaldi. For eight years, he delivered more promise than results. Then came three magical weeks in October, when ability and opportunity coalesced into a run of dominance that transformed him from a fringe free agent swingman to a starter in demand. The $68 million contract he signed is probably triple what he would've commanded if the Red Sox had missed the playoffs.
The Eovaldi deal felt like an overpay based on the emotion and euphoria of a title. The Red Sox ignored not only a history of arm surgery, including two Tommy Johns, but one of mediocrity, too. Eovaldi's lifetime ERA of 4.22 and strikeout rate of 6.9 suggested a pitcher whose results never matched his talent.
He lasted only four starts this April before undergoing yet another surgery to clean loose bodies out of his elbow. He has bounced around the bullpen since returning and is now being used as an opener, no one's idea of a good use of $17 million.
The only pitcher Dombrowski got right was Rick Porcello, whom he never seriously considered re-signing. The 30-year-old right-hander is statistically one of the worst starters in baseball, and the Red Sox will look to upgrade his rotation spot this winter.
Unfortunately, with the benefit of hindsight, we now know that Dombrowski's best approach would've been entirely impractical: let Eovaldi walk, watch Sale pitch out his contract, and try to find takers for Price and Porcello.
With the Duck Boat tracks still fresh on the warning track and champagne still soaking everyone's hair, Dombrowski decided to bring the band back.
It's hard to blame him, but oh man, has it cost him.
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