With the regular season opener just weeks away, the Red Sox appear to have averted a worst case scenario outcome regarding left-hander Chris Sale, at least for the immediate future.
According to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic on Wednesday evening, a source has informed him that Sale “is not expected to undergo Tommy John surgery at this point.” The 30-year-old southpaw, who inked a five-year, $145 million long-term extension last spring, experienced elbow soreness after throwing a 15-pitch live batting practice session last Sunday. He underwent an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury, and those images were subsequently sent to Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Neal ElAttrache for review on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
It’s unclear exactly how long Sale will be sidelined before he can resume a throwing program, but it’s fair to speculate that the Red Sox will be extremely cautious moving forward; especially since he was shut down for the remainder of the 2019 campaign in mid-August due to elbow inflammation. He visited Dr. Andrews, who didn’t recommend Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery at that time, and received a platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) injection instead. If Rosenthal’s sources are correct (which they usually are) it’s obviously much better news than originally feared, but it’s more likely than not that Sale -- who was already expected to open the year on the injured list due to pneumonia -- will miss a significant chunk of the 2020 campaign anyway. Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke told reporters on Wednesday that they’re hopeful to have more information on Thursday and the team is expected to reveal their plan moving forward at that time.
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From a pure fantasy standpoint, Sale represents the ultimate wild card in drafts this spring. There will be a point in every fantasy draft where the potential reward outweighs the exponential risk on every potential player acquisition. However, it’s unclear exactly what the Red Sox plan is moving forward and whether Sale will actually be able to pitch without experiencing pain (or avoiding a potential surgical procedure) this season. The key phrase in the Rosenthal report is “at this point.” Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to accurately gauge Sale’s worth heading into draft season. Typically, when it comes to injuries (especially surgical procedures) there are clear timetables for recovery and return to baseball activities. In this case, it could be weeks or months before Sale is ready to resume throwing. We simply don’t have enough information to draw any definitive conclusions right now.
From a performance standpoint, there aren’t many lingering questions entering the 2020 campaign. He recorded a lacklsuter 4.40 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 218/37 K/BB ratio across 147 1/3 innings of work last year. The surface ERA may have been the worst of his big-league career, but according to Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Run Average metric, Sale’s 2.93 DRA was nearly nearly a run and a half lower and represented the 10th-best mark among starters with at least 100 innings of work last year. The elite strikeout potential remains intact and some regression in the run prevention department is surely coming, but the durability and workload concerns are overwhelming. On a per-start basis, Sale should provide upper-echelon results, but how many starts can fantasy owners reasonably project? Assuming that Sale is sidelined for at least a month or two, it may be unreasonable to forecast more than 100 to 125 innings (20 starts) in a best-case scenario. If you’re typically risk averse, it’s completely justifiable to remove him from your draft board entirely. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Sale compiles enough volume to warrant a selection outside of the late rounds in standard mixed leagues.
As for the Red Sox starting rotation, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez appear to be the only surefire locks right now. The fourth and fifth spots appear to be wide open, with Hector Velasquez, Ryan Weber, Brian Johnson and Tanner Houck the main contenders to fill the void. There’s also a real possibility that Boston audibles to a non-traditional approach, utilizing a multi-inning reliever like lefty Darwinzon Hernandez as an opener specialist once or twice per week.
Giants Receive Bad News On Beede
The Giants’ Opening Day rotation was dealt a blow on Wednesday when an MRI revealed that promising young right-hander Tyler Beede has both a flexor and UCL sprain in his right elbow. He underwent the MRI after exiting a Cactus League start against the Rangers on Tuesday and told reporters on Wednesday that his UCL is 75 percent attached and that he doesn't believe he’ll need surgery. The 26-year-old righty compiled a 5.08 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and 113/46 K/BB ratio across 117 innings (24 appearances, 22 starts) last year. The Giants are gathering second opinions before making any decisions, but there should be an update later this week. At the very least, Beede will likely open the 2020 campaign on the injured list.
Rangers Tab Santana For Center Field
After a brief position battle in spring training, Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward confirmed to reporters on Wednesday that Danny Santana will open the 2020 season as the team's primary center fielder. The 29-year-old did more than enough to show that he deserved an everyday role in the Rangers’ lineup, shuffling between seven positions on the diamond, while recording a sparkling .283/.324/.534 triple-slash line with 81 runs scored, a career-high 28 home runs, 81 RBI and 21 stolen bases across 511 plate appearances (his highest single-season total since 2014) last year. It’s not unfair to characterize his unlikely mid-career metamorphosis as an unexpected outlier campaign, but he was extremely valuable from a fantasy standpoint, becoming one of only nine major-league hitters to exceed 20 homers and 20 stolen bases last season. There’s undoubtedly some regression to the mean coming in terms of batting average, considering that he posted an elevated .353 BABIP (nearly 50 points higher than any other season in his big-league career besides 2014) last year. There may even be some pullback in terms of over-the-fence power and stolen bases as well. It’s fair to be skeptical that he can deliver a close facsimile of last season’s dual-threat production, but Santana appears to be locked into everyday at-bats, which should buoy his fantasy stock and insulate against the risk of a total collapse in value. He’s currently being selected as a top-40 fantasy outfielder (147th overall) in drafts this spring. Even baking in some regression, there’s plenty of room for profit at that acquisition cost.
Meanwhile, the Rangers’ decision virtually eliminates the possibility of intriguing slugger Nick Solak emerging as an everyday outfielder to begin the year. The 25-year-old masher has generated plenty of buzz as a late-round sleeper candidate this spring after hitting .293/.393/.491 with 11 homers and three stolen bases across 268 major-league plate appearances last year. According to multiple reports, he’s looked fine in center field this spring, but remains a legitimate defensive liability moving forward. There are zero questions regarding his skills at the plate. He should do enough damage at the plate -- especially versus left-handed pitching -- to garner significant playing time as a utility specialist, a role previously occupied by Santana, this season. The lack of a guaranteed everyday role puts a cap on his realistic ceiling, but Solak is still a prime late-round target in deeper mixed leagues this spring.
American League Quick Hits: Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters that outfielder Aaron Judge (shoulder/pectoral) is undergoing more tests on Wednesday … Astros manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday that designated hitter Yordan Alvarez (knees) will sit out of Grapefruit League games for another "three or four days.” … Angels manager Joe Maddon noted Wednesday that right-hander Felix Pena (knee) “probably” won't be ready for Opening Day … Angels’ right-hander Griffin Canning is scheduled to get a second opinion on his right elbow Thursday … Rays’ lefty Blake Snell (elbow) is aiming to throw a bullpen session Friday … Jose Altuve (illness) is expected to return to Grapefruit League action on Friday … Yasmani Grandal (calf) caught three innings in the White Sox “B” game on Wednesday … Luis Robert went 2-for-3 with a stolen base in the White Sox’ Cactus League contest against the Brewers … Tyler Glasnow racked up three strikeouts over 1 2/3 scoreless innings in a Grapefruit League start against the Blue Jays … J.A. Happ registered six strikeouts over four innings in a Grapefruit League start against the Phillies … Aaron Civale fired two scoreless innings in his Cactus League debut against the Diamondbacks … Zack Greinke tossed three shutout frames in a Grapefruit League start against the Marlins … Dylan Cease racked up five strikeouts over four innings in a Cactus League start versus the Brewers … Dylan Bundy recorded four strikeouts over 3 1/3 scoreless frames in a Cactus League start against the Mariners … Lance Lynn surrendered four runs over four innings in a Cactus League start versus the Rockies.
National League Quick Hits: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters Wednesday that outfielder Cody Bellinger (back) will play on Thursday. He also said that utilityman Chris Taylor is dealing with a sore right shoulder … X-rays on third baseman Justin Turner’s hand came back negative after he was hit by a pitch in a Cactus League matchup against the Giants on Wednesday night … J.D. Davis (shoulder) resumed taking live batting practice on Wednesday in Mets camp … Nick Castellanos (illness) is set to return to the Reds' Cactus League lineup on Thursday … Jorge Alfaro (oblique) has been cleared to resume baseball activities. The 26-year-old backstop has been sidelined since last Thursday after experiencing tightness in his left oblique … Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen did not offer a timetable on when second baseman Jed Lowrie (knee) will be able to return … Bryce Harper hit a pair of two-run homers and J.T. Realmuto went 3-for-3 with a homer from the leadoff spot as the Phillies edged the Pirates in Grapefruit League action … Bryan Reynolds homered and walked twice in the Pirates’ loss to the Braves in Grapefruit League play … Clayton Kershaw hurled three scoreless innings with four strikeouts in a Cactus League start against the Giants … Madison Bumgarner surrendered five runs -- four earned -- over 2 2/3 innings in a Cactus League start versus the Indians … Tyler Chatwood recorded five strikeouts over three innings in a Cactus League start against the Reds … Mike Soroka gave up three runs in 2 2/3 innings in a Grapefruit League start against the Pirates … Marcus Stroman fanned four in three scoreless innings in a Grapefruit League start against the Cardinals … Brandon Woodruff allowed one run -- zero earned -- over three innings in a Cactus League start against the White Sox.