Just days after sending Vaughn Grissom to Boston in exchange for Chris Sale, Alex Anthopoulos is at it again. News broke today that Anthopoulos and the Braves have signed the left-hander to a new two-year deal worth $38 million.
Previously, he was locked up through 2024 with a team option for 2025. Now, that old contract has been overwritten, and his team option will be for 2026 instead.
The financial aspect of this is – as always – a bit complex. Sale was set to make $27.5 million this year, with $10 million of that being deferred until 15 years in the future. Since the Red Sox included $17 million in the trade, the Braves only originally owed him $500K in 2024.
Now, Atlanta will pay Sale $16 million in 2024 which is extremely close to what they already owed him. What it also does, though, is remove deferrals and pay him $22 million in 2025 and guarantee that extra year.
Showing Some Faith in an Aging Arm
At its core, this contract is the Braves showing Sale that they believe in his ability to stay healthy. The former ace has struggled mightily with his durability in recent years. Last year, he made 20 starts with 6-5 record and 4.30 ERA in just under 103 innings.
During his prime, Sale was on a surefire path to the Hall of Fame. He made seven (consecutive) All-Star Games from 2012 to 2018 and finished in the top in Cy Young voting six times. Sale was as dominant as they came when he was at his peak and is the all-time record holder in SO/9 with 11.1.
Again, injuries have been a rather consistent problem for Sale. The Braves had an opportunity to simply keep him on their roster for one year and cutting bait at the end of it, but there seems to be hope that he can return to form in Atlanta. There’s little doubt that his best days are behind him, but Sale is perfectly capable of functioning as a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm.
Long-term Vision for the Braves’ Rotation
There is a bit of uncertainty on the horizon for the Braves’ starting rotation. At the end of the 2024 season, ace Max Fried is set to hit free agency. Beyond that, 40-year-old righty Charlie Morton is also on an expiring contract.
As things currently stand, those are going to be two massive holes to fill in the starting five. Locking up Sale provides a bit more clarity for the group of starters beyond 2024.
By the time Fried and Morton depart, it’s worth wondering if any of the Braves’ top prospects will be ready to secure a consistent role in the big leagues; or whether someone like Dylan Dodd or Ian Anderson can be relied upon as a long-term piece.
In Baseball America’s top 10 preseason Braves prospects list, a whopping seven of them are pitchers. Of that group, AJ Smith-Shawver (#1) and Hurston Waldrep (#2) feel like the top candidates to replace Fried and/or Morton beginning in 2025.
A Risk Worth Taking
Due to Sale’s spotty track record when it comes to injuries, this deal does come with a bit of risk. However, he has proven time and time again that when he’s healthy, he’s the real deal. Even as he ages, Sale remains a solid left-handed starter that should be an excellent complement to Spencer Strider, Fried and Morton.
In the end, this deal feels like a “win” for both sides. The Braves have locked in some rotation stability for the future, while Sale has locked up some additional financial security.