“He’s not stagnant in terms of the full range of motion he needs to throw the baseball,” Manager John Farrell said.
That wasn’t the most encouraging progress report, but it is wise not to rush tender $217 million elbows in March. The Red Sox are prepared for Price’s absence because they have Sale, a five-time All-Star they acquired from the Chicago White Sox in December.
Sale was happy to make the 140-mile drive from Fort Myers to face the Yankees on Tuesday, rather than get in his work against minor leaguers. He said he wanted something closer to regular-season intensity, and carved up the Yankees for 10 strikeouts in six innings, allowing two runs (on a Matt Holliday homer) in a 4-2 Boston victory. He is settling in nicely.
“There’s a very winning tradition here,” Sale said. “Winning’s at the top of the list. Everybody in camp, everybody associated with the Boston Red Sox wants to win — bad. I love it.”
Dave Dombrowski, Boston’s president for baseball operations, got Sale for a package of four prospects. In time, it may be a steal for the White Sox, if infielder Yoan Moncada and pitcher Michael Kopech meet their lofty projections. But none of the traded players appeared for the Red Sox in their division series loss to Cleveland last October.
Dombrowski already had Price; the Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello; the All-Stars Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz; and the promising Eduardo Rodriguez for his rotation. But in Sale, he had the option of adding one of baseball’s five best starters, and he felt compelled to do so. The trade was a response to that obligation, not to a pressing need.
“It was more that, when we had a chance to get Chris Sale, we would get Chris Sale, because we thought that he would make any rotation better,” Dombrowski said. “And we would not have anticipated David getting hurt, but you know that anything could happen. We did have five solid starters, but we just felt if you could add another guy who was a No. 1-type starter to Porcello and Price, guys who were 200-plus-inning guys, it gives you some depth — and depth with ability.
“To me, if you’re going to have a chance to win, there’s not a better way to do that.”
The Yankees sat out the Sale talks because General Manager Brian Cashman is still trying to gather as much talent inventory as possible. If the Yankees had four everyday impact players, under age 27, making less than $10 million combined — as Boston does in Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi — they could have sacrificed budding stars for Sale.
They don’t. Instead, the Yankees have a center fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, making $21 million a year as a reward for winning championships in Boston. The Red Sox have bad contracts, too — the forgotten Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig will make more than $22 million combined this season — but they are stashed off the 40-man roster, so they do not count against the competitive-balance tax.
The Yankees are a slumbering superpower, hoping to be respectable this season as they wisely show patience for a bigger payoff later. The Red Sox are a team of now, even after the retirement of David Ortiz. They may not score as many runs as they did with Ortiz, but with Sale, they may prevent more this season.
“What was my reaction when they traded for him? ‘Dang it!’” Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said. “He’s a guy — it doesn’t matter who’s got the best rotation, maybe the Mets, maybe the Red Sox — it doesn’t matter what team he gets traded to, he makes them better.
“Especially a team in your division, you don’t want to see that. I know Boston gave up a whole lot of talent to get him, so no telling how the whole thing plays out. But in the near future, you don’t ever want to see that guy come into your division and have to face him several times a year.”
That is especially true for the Yankees. As The Boston Globe pointed out Tuesday, Sale’s 1.17 career E.R.A. against the Yankees is the best by any pitcher against them (with a minimum 50 innings) in the past century.
Most of that was done against different Yankees hitters; nobody on their roster has faced Sale even 15 times. That will change in a big way this season, when the evolving Yankees get regular doses of a star they were not quite ready to acquire, and landed with their rival instead.