Braves add veteran Sale in deal with Red Sox

December 30th, 2023

ATLANTA  --   isn’t the perennial Cy Young Award candidate he was throughout most of the last decade. But the Braves believe he is now healthy enough to be a valuable piece within their starting rotation. 

The Braves didn’t take much of a financial risk as they acquired Sale and $17 million from the Red Sox in exchange for  on Saturday. This low-risk, potentially high-reward move could fill Atlanta’s need for a starting pitcher. 

“There’s health history, and I understand that’s going to be a topic,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said. “But we think he’s a playoff-caliber starter and that’s what we were in the market for this offseason. We’ll make sure to do what we can to keep him on the mound.”

Injuries ended the dominance Sale displayed while finishing within the top six in balloting for the American League Cy Young Award seven straight seasons (2012-18). The 34-year-old lefty underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020 and battled both a rib fracture and right wrist fracture during the '22 campaign. He totaled just 11 starts from 2020-22.

Sale’s injury woes continued this past season as he spent time on the shelf with a stress reaction to his left scapula. He ended up posting a 4.30 ERA over 20 starts. He had a 3.92 ERA in the nine starts he made after returning from the IL in August.

This span was encouraging enough for the Braves to make this deal at the expense of Grissom, who didn’t appear to be part of Atlanta’s immediate or long-term plans.

“We feel like this is the first normal offseason [Sale] will have had in a long time,” Anthopoulos said. “But at the same time, he’s still coming off just a hundred innings pitched last year. So, we’ll be mindful of that. We don’t put limits on any of our starters, but we do take it day by day if guys need to skip a bullpen or need extra days between starts.”

Though Sale’s workload will be closely monitored, the Braves plan on having Sale in their rotation at the start of the season. In other words, they don’t believe they need to delay his debut a month or two in attempt to maximize what he might be able to provide during the playoffs.

Sale is owed $27.5 million in 2024 and has a $20 million club option for 2025. Boston will send $17 million to Atlanta as part of the deal, a source told's Mark Feinsand.

The immediate cost to the Braves could be viewed as just $500,000, though Anthopoulos has always refrained from discussing these kinds of financial specifics.

Sale’s 2025 option would vest if he were to finish in the top 10 of the Cy Young balloting and doesn’t end '24 on the IL.

With this acquisition, the Braves’ projected rotation consists of Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Charlie Morton, Sale and Bryce Elder. But while talking to reporters on Saturday, Anthopoulos said Elder will battle Reynaldo López, A.J. Smith-Shawver and others for the fifth spot during Spring Training.

López could still be stretched out during Spring Training to prepare for the possibility of being utilized as a starter at some point. But Sale’s presence creates the opportunity for López to be utilized as a reliever, a role in which he's thrived.

“We know we’re going to need more than five starters regardless over the course of the year,” Anthopoulos said. “The fact we have depth there should allow us to build in extra days.”

Grissom, who was the Braves' No. 7 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline in 2022, became a fan favorite as he quickly rose from the Minors to serve as Atlanta’s second baseman for most of the final few months of the 2022 season. The team toyed with the idea of using him as its starting shortstop this past year. But his defensive limitations have always created reason to wonder how much long-term value he might provide at the big league level.

The Red Sox could give Grissom regular playing time. The 22-year-old infielder, who hit .330 with a .921 OPS for Triple-A Gwinnett this past season, is currently playing in Puerto Rico, where he has been introducing himself to the left field position.

“You’re not going to find a better human being [than Grissom],” Anthopoulos said. “The makeup is as good as it gets. He’s a high-energy guy who makes people around him better.”