HomeMLB RumorsBraves, Red Sox Trade Chris Sale For Vaughn Grissom

Braves, Red Sox Trade Chris Sale For Vaughn Grissom

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The Braves and Red Sox have agreed to a major trade, as left-hander Chris Sale will head to Atlanta in exchange for infield prospect Vaughn Grissom, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports.  The Sox will also include $17MM in the deal to help cover Sale’s $27.5MM salary for the 2024 season, as per the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.  Sale had a full no-trade clause that he has waived to facilitate the move.

The surprising move ends Sale’s tumultuous run in Boston after seven years and six seasons, as Sale missed all of the 2020 campaign.  After acquiring Sale as part of a blockbuster deal with the White Sox in December 2016, Sale pitched brilliantly in his first two seasons at Fenway, twice finishing in the top four in AL Cy Young Award voting and playing a big role in Boston’s World Series title in 2018.

Since 2019 was the last year of Sale’s previous contract, the Red Sox were aggressive in locking up their ace, signing him to a five-year, $145MM extension covering the 2020-24 seasons, with a $20MM club option for the 2025 campaign.  Unfortunately, this extension has proven to be a big misfire, as Sale started to run into injury problems even late in the 2018 campaign.  He was shut down in August 2019 with elbow inflammation and received a PRP injection, yet that elbow issue was only the harbinger for the Tommy John surgery that cost Sale his entire 2020 season and most of his 2021 campaign.

The bad injury luck continued over the last two seasons, as Sale was sidelined by a wide array of maladies including a stress reaction in his ribs, a fractured finger, a broken wrist (suffered in a bicycle accident), and a stress reaction in his shoulder blade.  Sale tossed only 48 1/3 innings total in 2021-22, while rebounding to some extent to pitch 102 2/3 frames last season.

Sale’s 93.9mph fastball velocity in 2023 slightly topped his career average, while his strikeout, walk, and hard-hit ball rates were all well above the league average.  While the southpaw may never get back to his past elite form, Sale’s 2023 performance at least indicated that he still has a good deal left in the tank as he enters his age-35 season, provided that he can just stay on the field.

This is exactly what the Braves are counting on from Sale as a third or even a fourth starter, behind Max Fried, Spencer Strider, and Charlie Morton in the team’s rotation.  President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos is counting in Sale’s upside to bolster the pitching staff, and Atlanta’s collection of younger arms (AJ Smith-Shawver, Dylan Dodd, Huascar Ynoa, Darius Vines, and top prospect Hurston Waldrep) and swingman Reynaldo Lopez can provide extra depth should Sale or anyone else in the rotation need time on the injured list.

In typical Anthopoulos fashion, this particular trade came out of nowhere, even if the Braves were known to be looking for some pitching help.  Atlanta made a strong bid for Aaron Nola before he re-signed with the Phillies, and such free agent and trade targets as Tyler Glasnow, Dylan Cease, Sonny Gray, and Seth Lugo were also linked to the Braves on the rumor mill.

Because Sale’s extension the Red Sox contained $10MM of deferred money per season, he’ll cost the Braves merely $500K in actual salary in 2024.  Even without the deferral involved, a one-year, $10.5MM deal for Sale as a free agent would’ve been a reasonable or even a slight bargain price for a pitcher with his track record.  It could perhaps be argued that the Braves might have been better off finding such a pitcher on the free agent market rather than trade away a promising young player like Grissom, but it is also fair to note that such a rotation upgrade might not have existed at a $10.5MM price tag.  Or, dealing for a pitcher like Cease, Corbin Burnes, Shane Bieber, or other still-available trade candidates might’ve cost Atlanta lot more than only Grissom.

Sale’s $20MM club option for 2025 shouldn’t be discounted either, as the Braves might consider exercising that option if Sale pitched well.  The $20MM figure matches what Morton is earning this season, and since Morton has flirted with retirement over the last few years, Sale could potentially step in as Atlanta’s veteran rotation arm if Morton does hang up his cleats next winter.  Sale’s $20MM club option is actually a vesting option that becomes guaranteed if he finishes the year healthy, and finished in the top 10 in NL Cy Young Award voting.

Anthopoulos and team chairman Terry McGuirk weren’t kidding last November when they said that the Braves planned to keep increasing payroll.  The Braves’ $203MM Opening Day payroll from 2023 was already a club record, and Roster Resource now projects a payroll just shy of $241MM for the 2024 squad.  After topping the luxury tax barrier for the first time in 2023, the Braves’ estimated $280MM tax number now soars over the third penalty tier of $277MM, so they’ll face increasingly hefty overages as second-time payors.  Passing the third tier means that Atlanta’s top pick in the 2024 draft will now drop 10 spots, and they’ll face the standard tax penalties related to qualified free agents and the international bonus pool.

This doesn’t appear to be much of a deterrent for an Atlanta club that has been swimming in extra revenues since the opening of Truist Park and its neighboring ballpark village project known as The Battery.  The Braves have used this money to lock up several members of its roster on contract extensions, and this young core has already delivered the 2021 World Series championships and six straight NL East crowns.

The outlook hasn’t been as rosy at Fenway Park, as the Red Sox have been very inconsistent since that 2018 title.  On the heels of consecutive last-place finishes in the AL East, Craig Breslow replaced Chaim Bloom as the team’s chief baseball officer, and Breslow now has his first true blockbuster trade as a front office executive.

Starting pitching has been a known need for the Red Sox all winter, and Boston just signed Lucas Giolito yesterday to help address the rotation mix.  While moving Sale diminishes from the number of available arms, the trade does free up some money to help make other moves, and the Sox simply might’ve wanted a more reliable starting pitching option than the injury-plagued Sale.  Plus, adding six years of team control over a promising player like Grissom is a nice return for the Sox at the cost of $17MM.

Grissom immediately fills Boston’s need for second base help.  An 11th-round pick for Atlanta in the 2019 draft, Grissom has torn up minor league pitching during his four seasons in the Braves’ farm system and quickly got himself on the radar for a big league call-up.  Grissom hit .291/.353/.440 over 156 plate appearances in 2022, though followed up with a more modest .659 OPS in just 80 PA last season.  Given a chance at the everyday shortstop job, Grissom fell behind Orlando Arcia on the depth chart, and ultimately spent most the season at Triple-A since the Braves wanted him to play regularly rather than ride the bench.

Grissom has spent much of his minor league career as a shortstop, yet there has been some question about his long-term viability at the position.  Moving to second base or third base was difficult on a Braves team with Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley already in place, so Grissom had been getting some reps as an outfielder as a possible candidate to fill the club’s left field vacancy.  However, the acquisition of Jarred Kelenic from the Mariners also seemed to close that door.

No such position blocks exist in Boston, as the Red Sox might well just install Grissom as their Opening Day second baseman.  He fits Breslow’s preferred add of a right-handed hitter, and Grissom’s glovework could or should work out well at the less-demanding second base position.  Getting Grissom in the fold could now relegate Enmanuel Valdez, Pablo Reyes, or Rob Refsnyder to pure backup duty or perhaps even as trade chips, while Ceddanne Rafaela now looks even likelier to be used as an outfielder (and Rafaela might yet be a trade candidate himself).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images


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