Red Sox

Could a healthy Chris Sale be a candidate for a contract extension?

Could a healthy Chris Sale be a candidate for a contract extension?

LAS VEGAS — With only the 2019 season left on his contract, a healthy Chris Sale may be the most viable target the Red Sox have amongst their stars for an extension. 

Sale is open to extension talks, sources told NBC Sports Boston, with indications that he is more open to those talks than most players of his caliber would be when sitting just a year away from free agency. It’s unclear if there’s any movement on that front yet, with one team source noting that extensions generally brew later in the offseason.

“They come around at all different times for guys,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said generally. “I would prefer to not be [talking] in-season. That would be really more my cutoff date.”

The good news for all parties, and certainly relevant to any extension discussions: a regular offseason now is expected to mean 100 percent health for Sale.

An MRI showed no structural damage to his shoulder, sources said.

MORE WINTER MEETINGS

But just how much pain Sale was pitching through at the end of 2018 may be under appreciated, in part because of his reticence to speak on the matter — and in part because of how awkwardly Dombrowski in turn handled that reticence. 

When pressed on Sale’s health at multiple points this offseason, Dombrowski gave the avoidable appearance the Sox were hiding something, before giving a basic explanation Monday that Sale, spotlight averse, wanted to limit what was said.

“Our training staff has cleared him, doctors have cleared him 100 percent,” Dombrowski said, who said Sale has been throwing this winter.

But the severity of Sale’s bursitis in his throwing shoulder was indeed a major factor in the playoffs, when the lefty's velocity dipped, but his success did not. There just wasn’t enough time for the ace lefty to fully recover, and the discomfort became both recurring and excruciating for a pitcher who, had he stayed healthy, may well have won the Cy Young.

Sale went to the disabled list on July 31. He came back for one start in early August, was throwing gas, and went back on the DL again.

Sale had severe tendinitis, which is part and parcel with bursitis. He rested, felt some relief, and then the pain came back worse than ever, sources said. But he gutted through it with the knowledge that, eventually, rest should make that condition fully better.

MORE RED SOX

“From a rest perspective, perhaps if he’d had more at that time,” Dombrowski said. “But he was cleared to go by everybody, he felt 100 percent, and there was no question that was it. But some of it had to do with coming back at pitching and maybe not being quite at that same point. But there was never any doubt that he was ready to go and OK.”

Sale, of course, wound up briefly hospitalized in the postseason. He joked he was being treated for an infection related to a belly-button ring. But it never took much to connect the dots between the stomach illness he was combatting and the state of his arm, which he was pulling out all stops to treat, and may have included medication that could make him ill.

Sale’s velocity jumped in the middle of the 2018 season, something that probably worked to the detriment of his shoulder. He fell in love, seemingly, with a triple-digit fastball. That's correctable.

“He’s good at 95 with that slider, too,” manager Alex Cora said Monday. “We know what we have. We know what we’re going to do next year."

After leaving some potential money on the table with his current contract — a five-year extension in spring 2013 that has made him $57.5 million, including 2019’s $13.5 million salary — Sale may well want to test the market. He’ll have earned that right as a Hall of Fame track pitcher, a modern-day Randy Johnson. 

MORE DRELLICH

At the same time, maximizing dollars has never appeared a singular goal for Sale. He’s well liked in town, particularly after recording the final out of the World Series, for his success and demeanor alike

There are plenty of players the Sox will want to try to keep long term. But Sale, within reason, may be of a slightly different mindset than others. 

Mookie Betts, a free agent after 2020, has long looked destined to test the open market, unless the Sox pay him in a way comparable to his open-market value — and Bryce Harper and Manny Machado probably need to sign before that value can be gauged accurately. J.D. Martinez is a Scott Boras client, as is Xander Bogaerts. Both are up after ’19, and likely to hit free agency as well.

Durability hasn’t always been Sale’s hallmark, which could give him some incentive to act sooner rather than later. But he's always worked very hard on his fitness, and is so talented that he'll have no shortage of suitors.

Most importantly, there is confidence that he will return for 2019 at full health.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Red Sox claim RHP Phillips Valdez off waivers, place Dustin Pedroia on 60-day IL

Red Sox claim RHP Phillips Valdez off waivers, place Dustin Pedroia on 60-day IL

The Boston Red Sox have made yet another move to bolster their pitching depth.

On Sunday, they claimed right-hander Phillips Valdez off waivers from the Seattle Mariners. To make room for Valdez, they placed veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia on the 60-day injured list.


LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Valdez, 27, only has 11 games worth of major league experience under his belt. In 2019, he posted a 3.94 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 16 innings pitched with the Texas Rangers. Valdez was claimed off waivers by the Mariners in November, then designated for assignment on Saturday.

Pedroia suffered a "significant setback" during his knee rehab, so his placement on the 60-day IL doesn't come as a surprise. The 36-year-old did not report to spring training with the Red Sox.

Along with Valdez, Boston has added Chris Mazza, Martin Perez, Trevor Hildenberger, to its pitching staff this offseason.

An Opening Day start for Red Sox' Chris Sale: 'I think I'm going to be ready'

An Opening Day start for Red Sox' Chris Sale: 'I think I'm going to be ready'

Already coming off a season cut short by an elbow injury that shut him down last August, Chris Sale's spring training got off to a slow start as he recovered from a bout with pneumonia just as pitchers and catchers reported to Red Sox camp in Fort Myers. 

He says he's progressing after the illness led to him dropping a few pounds from his already thin frame (6-foot-6, 180). He'll throw a side session Sunday and told reporters on Saturday that he thinks he'll be ready for Opening Day March 26.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

"I think I’m going to be ready for [the opener]. But like I said, those aren’t my calls to make. I go out there, do my job, tell them how I feel on a daily basis," Sale said. "Obviously as the workload picks up, we have to see how things work out. I’ve just got to be open and honest with them and then we map out a plan and see how it works out."

In a Friday interview on WEEI's "Ordway, Merloni and Fauria" show, Sale said having his season end early last summer and going through a rehab process to avoid Tommy John surgery has him raring to go into 2020 despite questions about his stamina.

"I feel like I'm better now than I was then because of going through that [injury and rehab]."

Sale hasn't reached 200 innings pitched since 2017. He went 6-11 in 25 starts (147.1 IP) in what he called "a nightmare season" in 2019 after his and all the starters' workloads were limited in spring training and he struggled with his velocity at times before the injury was diagnosed.

"I feel really good," he told WEEI. "I can sit here and tell you what I want to do, what I think I'm going to do, but I've just got to go do it. I live here in town and put in a lot of work. I was here four to five times a week. It's exciting. For me, this really started last September October when that rehab process began.

"I gotta get back to the basics. Not really worry about fading, the injuries. This is sports. Injuries can happen overnight...I'm not worried about what my track record is or what people are thinking of me."