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Chris Sale could be the answer to a lingering question for Atlanta’s rotation

The Braves have been in search of another starter for their rotation all offseason and now they’ll be hoping on a healthy and productive Chris Sale to fortify their starting rotation.

Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images

Two of the biggest questions surrounding the Atlanta Braves this offseason were “Will the Braves be able to trade for another starting pitcher?” alongside “Will they have to trade Vaughn Grissom in order to get that starting pitcher?” Both of those questions were answered in the affirmative, as the Braves just swung a deal with the Red Sox where Grissom is going to Boston in exchange for 35-year-old lefty Chris Sale.

I will say that it’s a bit of a shock that Chris Sale ended up being the one getting traded since it seemed like Atlanta would have their eyes on other options and the Red Sox seemed set to give Sale another shot in their rotation. Despite the fact that he’s had to deal with a ton of injury woes over recent seasons, he had already been penciled in as Boston’s Opening Day starter for the upcoming season. You don’t need me to tell you that there’s a lot of time between September and April and this is evidence of that. Instead of starting on Opening Day in Seattle, Sale is going to be on the road with the Braves to start the regular season.

First, let’s talk about Vaughn Grissom. Talk about the difference a year makes — last offseason, there was a lot of buzz about Grissom spending a lot of time during the winter with Ron Washington and it seemed like it was all-but-certain that Grissom would be the starting shortstop for the Braves going forward. Instead, Grissom failed to make the Opening Day roster, spent the vast majority of his season in Triple-A, earned a surprise call-up for the Postseason and then got some reps in left field while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. Grissom was blocked from getting big league playing time at both Shortstop and second base and it was pretty clear after the Braves acquired Jared Kelenic that left field probably wouldn’t be Grissom’s path to consistent playing time, either.

Basically, the writing was on the wall for Grissom as far as his future in Atlanta was concerned. Instead of being the presumptive heir apparent at shortstop following the departure of Dansby Swanson, it seemed inevitable that Grissom would be departing the club as well. Sure enough, that day has come and now he’ll be playing regularly at the ballpark where he made his magical professional debut: Fenway Park. He’ll get his shot at regular big league playing time in Boston and honestly, I wouldn’t bet against him getting the job done with the Red Sox. While there’s still plenty of questions about whether or not he has the defensive chops to really be reliable in the infield, the Red Sox are going to give him plenty of chances to work out the kinks since he should be a solid hitter at the major league level going forward. If I’m Boston, I’m feeling pretty excited about seeing what Vaughn Grissom can do.

As far as the Braves are concerned, this is definitely a bit of a gamble for them. When healthy, Chris Sale is a very good option and should be reliable whenever he’s on the mound. 2023 was the first season where Sale pitched over 100 innings since 2019, which is when he finished the year with a 91 ERA- and a 75 FIP-. Comparatively, he finished 2023 with a 95 ERA- and an 88 FIP-, which means that he pitched at a similar level to the last season where he could have been considered really healthy. If you take a look at his Statcast and compare his 2019 to 2023, it’s pretty similar — especially when it comes to Chase Percentage, Whiff Percentage, Strikeout Percentage and Walk Percentage. I know I’m not breaking any ground with this analysis but as long as those are in the red territory, you can live with whatever he gives you going forward.

Chris Sale’s 2019 compared to 2023
baseballsavant.mlb.com

Still, there were two words in the paragraph above that were very, very important: “When healthy.” While he did manage to cross the 100-inning threshold and made 20 starts last season, he still missed two months last season due to a shoulder injury and that was after a calamitous list of injuries in 2022 limited him to just two starts and 5.2 innings in that season, and that was after he had missed all of 2020 and most of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Needless to say, there’s some major injury risk here but at the same time, the Braves have to be hoping and figuring that Sale’s injury luck is going to turn at some point.

The injuries that he sustained in 2022 could’ve been chalked up to some ol’ fashioned rotten luck, as he fractured a rib while working out during the lockout, then he got hit by a comebacker and broke his left pinkie in only his second start back after returning to the mound and then he broke his right wrist in a bike accident. The obvious hope is that the shoulder injury he sustained last season was the end of his bad injury luck as he finished the season on a healthy note once he returned and so far he’s had a healthy offseason in preparation for the upcoming season.

He also won’t be asked to carry such a massive burden in Atlanta, either. As mentioned earlier, he would’ve been the Opening Day starter at the top of Boston’s rotation. Here in Atlanta, you have to figure that he’ll be the fourth starter behind some combination of Max Fried, Spencer Strider and Charlie Morton. Even in his current form, if Chris Sale is your fourth starter then you’re in a fantastic position as far as starting pitching is concerned. The days of Sale being a 5-7 fWAR pitcher have come and gone but as long as he can stay healthy, he’ll be a very reliable option for the Braves in this rotation. Considering how last season went for this team when it came to their starting pitching, it’ll be huge to be able to have that level of reliability that deep in the rotation.

While there’s no guarantee that Chris Sale will stay healthy, it’s definitely understandable that the Braves would be willing to bet on it. Atlanta will be covering “a good amount” of Sale’s contract and letting go of a very solid prospect in Vaughn Grissom in order to try to solidify their rotation for 2024 and possibly 2025 if they choose to pick up his option next offseason. If it works and Sale is healthy and productive then the Braves will have a very formidable rotation going forward.

Alex Anthopoulos had a clear list of tasks that he had to accomplish this offseason — the left field situation needed to be addressed, the bullpen needed some more help and they also could’ve benefited from another starter. All three of those tasks have been met and the Braves have to be feeling pretty good going into the upcoming season. This isn’t a perfect roster but at the same time, there’s a reason why this is still projected as the best team in baseball. The addition of Chris Sale should only fortify that projection as we head into the new year.

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