Winter Meetings

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.

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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.

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“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. 

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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.

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The reality of Nathan Eovaldi's new $68M deal is still sinking in for hurler

The reality of Nathan Eovaldi's new $68M deal is still sinking in for hurler

LAS VEGAS — Four or five times now, Nate Eovaldi has watched the Red Sox championship film. Winning the World Series has set in, but his new four-year contract with the Red Sox has not.

“It’s crazy,” Eovaldi said Monday, after his press conference announcing his four-year contract with the Sox. “Just take everything into perspective and the way we started and how we were able to finish, that Game 3 moment, it’s been amazing.

“I felt like it has set in. The signing still hasn’t set in. But the World series, I feel like it’s set in. I’m focused and ready to go for next year.”

The World Series glow has changed his life beyond a $68 million deal. When he goes to the supermarket, people recognize him. Stardom happens fast when you prove yourself on the biggest stage, an adjustment for a relatively quiet character like Eovaldi.

“It’s definitely been a lot different than in the past,” Eovaldi said. “A lot of my neighbors know who I am now. Before I was flying under the radar there. Being recognized at grocery stores and things like that. For the most part, everybody’s so thankful about my performance that I had in that Game 3 of the World Series so, just be able to talk to them and give them a little bit of whatever, it’s been a lot of fun.

“I’m still not used to it yet. … I’m extremely — it’s a humbling experience.”

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From his end, there was always a looming sense that Eovaldi would wind up back in Boston, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. There were four finalists, a source said. The Astros and Angels were among them, and Eovaldi confirmed his interest in the Astros. The Yankees pursued Eovaldi, but may not have been a finalist. 

Eovaldi decided early on in the process that he wanted to only pitch for a winning team. That meant that if a losing team hypothetically approached him with better offer, he would pass on it.

But even as the negotiations wound down, Eovaldi’s heart was set on the Sox, and there wasn’t a reasonable length other teams could go to to pry him away.

“They were definitely you know up there at the top of my list of the teams to go to,” Eovaldi said of a return to Boston, “Houston being one of the other ones, just because it’s home for me. I mean, it would have been really hard to leave Boston, so I’m happy to be where I am.

“I stepped back and I let my agents handle it. They’ve done an amazing job with me throughout my entire career. They gave me all the feedback and let me know of any of the teams that were contacting me but for the most part I was letting them do their job. I was in communication with them almost every day.”

Eovaldi said some teams wanted him to be a reliever, including potentially as a closer and in a part-time relief role that could theoretically help keep him healthy.

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Red Sox bullpen again the focus as baseball's Winter Meetings begin

Red Sox bullpen again the focus as baseball's Winter Meetings begin

LAS VEGAS -- Oh look, more bullpen talk.

For almost a year now, stretching all the way to last offseason amidst the J.D. Martinez-Giancarlo Stanton hoopla, the Red Sox ‘pen has been there for you. Baseball’s 2018 winter meetings, which begin in full on Monday, will bring more of the same -- if the Sox follow the script, anyway. 

A return to the usual discussion is only natural, in part because Dave Dombrowski checked off a huge part of his wishlist when he re-signed Nate Eovaldi. Dombrowski, Eovaldi and Alex Cora are set to offer some remarks to the media on Monday morning, giving a Red Sox flavor to the meetings’ beginning.

What’s left afterward for the Sox? Same as it ever was.

Bullpen fatigue may be setting in. Yet, when examining the defending champs, there’s no area of need that stands out the same way. The braintrust is monitoring relievers in both the trade market and free agency.

The relievers looked like they needed an addition midseason in ‘18. And before the season. Of course, they wound up performing marvelously in the playoffs en route to a title. Now, with Craig Kimbrel’s free agency perhaps holding up the market, there is reason to be curious: How will the Sox fill his shoes at closer if he leaves? Doesn’t it make sense for all involved to bring back Joe Kelly for one of the late innings?

One matter does seem certain: At some point, there will be a new face or two joining the Sox’ relief corps for 2018. Even if Kimbrel goes and Kelly stays, one has to assume the Sox will add someone. 

But the Sox can also wait with the market saturated with ‘pen arms, thereby dragging out -- once again -- the evergreen discussion of who will be warming for the eighth.

There is offseason life in other areas for the Sox, and that’s not only in regard to monitoring the Yankees. Perhaps at the meetings the Sox will make progress toward an extension for one of their stars rapidly approaching their own free agency. Or, maybe Dombrowski pulls out a blockbuster that actually sets up the Sox better for the future.

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