FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The first standing ovation Chris Sale received in 2019 was not from a packed house at Fenway Park. Instead, it came from a clubhouse full of appreciative teammates who were thrilled that their ace had just formalized a five-year, $145 million extension that should keep him
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The first standing ovation Chris Sale received in 2019 was not from a packed house at Fenway Park. Instead, it came from a clubhouse full of appreciative teammates who were thrilled that their ace had just formalized a five-year, $145 million extension that should keep him with the Red Sox through 2024.
When Saturday morning’s press conference started, the back of a small interview room at JetBlue Park was packed with teammates Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez and many others. Manager Alex Cora and his coaches also attended, along with many members of the front office.
It was after Sale finished speaking to the media, when he walked into the clubhouse and got the ovation from his teammates.
That type of support from every level of the organization had a lot to do with Sale’s motivation to stay in the first place.
“I want to start by thanking [owner] John [Henry] and [chairman] Tom Werner and the ownership group of the Red Sox. I know this is a big step for them to take,” said Sale. “I made it adamant in the beginning that I wanted to be here, and I’m very thankful we made it happen.
“I also want to thank my teammates. Through all this, they’ve been awesome and without them, I’m nothing. Through this whole process, it’s been a crazy, hectic time. But just being able to be around them and have some levity and keep it easy has been nice.”
Sale thrives off of family, comfort, being treated fairly and winning. For that combination of reasons, Sale had little interest in exploring a free-agent market this coming winter that possibly could have landed him a more lucrative deal.
“Well, I think if you look at this as a whole from both sides, I think it’s pretty fair,” Sale said. “That’s why I signed it.”
The fact that Sale lives in the Fort Myers area, and has since he was in college, was a significant factor in his strong desire to stay with the Red Sox.
“For me, living at my house for two extra months, picking my son up from school -- I’ve made it to all of his practices for little league,” said Sale. “He has 14 games, I’ve been able to see six of them. I was supposed to be able to see the one today, but I got pushed back, so I’ve got to pitch. We’re going to pitch on the same day, so that’s pretty cool.
“I have two sons and got another baby coming, so I want to be around my family. I want to be down here. This is where I live, this is where I went to school, this is where I’ve kind of established my life. For me, that’s the best possible deal. In terms of money, it is what it is.”
When president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran met with Sale at the outset of Spring Training, negotiations quickly gained momentum and ended with the deal that was agreed to Friday and announced Saturday.
Both sides were direct, and it was clear that they wanted the same thing.
“I met with Dave and Brian on Day 1 of Spring Training and it was a very cordial open conversation,” said Sale. “We’re sitting around the table talking about logistics, this thing and that thing, all the things that go into this. I flat out told them: I want to be here. They told me they want me to be here. It was very transparent the entire time. There was really never any kinks in the hose the entire way.”
With Sale leading the way, the Red Sox have a rotation that is built for success not just this year, when they are aiming for a World Series title defense, but for the next several. Price is signed through 2022. Ditto for Eovaldi. Rodriguez is under contractual control of the club for the next three seasons. Porcello is eligible for free agency at the end of ’19, but he’d like to come back.
“I think if you look at the overall winning style, I think it starts with starting pitching and like [Dombrowski] said, we’ve got some horses in this rotation, and I think that’s a plus,” Sale said. “That is a big step in the right direction for winning. And like I said, I like to win. Last year was awesome and I want to keep doing that. And as he said, we’ve got four starting pitchers the foreseeable future and we’ve got a fifth one we’d like to keep around, too.”
While Sale was a huge first step for Dombrowski in shaping the Red Sox for the next several seasons, the executive knows a lot of other key decisions loom.
Betts can be a free agent at the end of the 2020 season, and has indicated that he expects he will become one. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is entering his final season before free agency. Bradley can be a free agent after ’20. J.D. Martinez has opt-outs after the next two seasons.
Dombrowski will try to keep as many of those players as possible, but knows it will be hard to keep all of them. His goal is to keep his team contending for championships for the next several years.
“We want to win year in and year out, and I think it starts with great players,” Dombrowski said. “Ownership is fantastic here. We have a great, loyal fan base. Alex and his staff, they’ve really brought a great deal [to the table]. I really don’t think there are too many places that have that.
“Our goal is to not just to have won last year, but we’ve started a new chapter and we’re looking to win this year and win for years to come and there’s not a lot of organizations that are capable of doing that. It’s a challenge and hopefully we can do that.”
With the ace secured, the challenge just became a little easier.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.