Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale will avoid Tommy John surgery, at least for the time being, after visiting renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews for an evaluation on Monday. ESPN’s Jeff Passan was the first to report the news:
Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale does not need Tommy John surgery, sources tell ESPN. A follow-up today with Dr. James Andrews confirmed the diagnosis of elbow inflammation. His return date is unclear, but for Boston, this is excellent news.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 19, 2019
Story at ESPN: https://t.co/EZZrKY2Hn0
The Red Sox are surely breathing a major sigh of relief now that they know the 30-year-old Sale is simply dealing with elbow inflammation, rather than a tear that would’ve knocked him out for the rest of this season and almost surely the entire 2020 campaign. While that may never have been the Red Sox’s assumption, it was a prevailing public fear after Sale went to visit Andrews, one of the most notable performers of Tommy John surgery. Losing Sale for a year or more would’ve been a brutal blow for the Red Sox, who reworked his deal this spring so that he’ll remain under contract through 2024 with a vesting option for 2025. He’s guaranteed $145 million over that stretch, with the 2025 option being worth $20 million and a multitude of incentives being included in the deal.
Unfortunately, while Sale will avoid surgery, he still hasn’t been nearly as good as usual this season, and there’s no telling whether that’s due to the lingering elbow soreness or other factors. He snapped a streak of seven straight years as an All-Star earlier this summer, and it will probably also be the first year since 2011 that he won’t receive Cy Young votes. Over 25 starts, Sale has posted a 4.40 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP, 218 strikeouts, and 37 walks over 147.1 innings. Obviously those numbers aren’t awful and are still pretty solid in comparison to the rest of the league, but they’re a clear step down for Sale, who has a career ERA of 3.03 with a 1.04 WHIP.
Even after the best-case diagnosis was handed down, it’s still possible that Sale might not pitch again this season. The Red Sox are 16 games out in the AL East and 6.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot, so it might be in their best interest to play it safe with their franchise pitcher and shut him down for the year rather than risking his health for what will likely be a fruitless playoff pursuit.
This development continues a trend of the Red Sox catching fortunate breaks with the health of big-money pitchers. It was widely speculated that David Price would need Tommy John surgery in 2017 after he began the season on the disabled list with an elbow strain and didn’t make his debut until mid-May. But Price was able to avoid surgery and has gone on to have a rather successful career with Boston, including a World Series victory last year, since signing a seven-year deal with the team prior to the 2016 season.