Fantasy Baseball Injury Reaction: Chris Sale’s Tommy John surgery brings some clarity to an uncertain time

We still don’t know when (or if) the 2020 season will begin, but we know Chris Sale won’t be there for it. The 30-year-old has elected to have Tommy John surgery after his elbow didn’t respond as hoped to the start of a throwing program Monday.

If there’s ever good timing for such a thing, this is it. Many Fantasy Baseball leagues postponed their draft with the news that the start of the season would be delayed due to social distancing guidelines brought about by the COVID-19 virus. For Sale, there was the threat of surgery following a flexor strain diagnosis, but the lingering uncertainty made for an uncomfortable situation where someone in your league was going to get either a huge discount or a complete bust. The clarity, especially at a time when there are more questions than answers surrounding the 2020 season, is welcome.

Plus, Sale gets more time for recovery. Having the procedure now gives him some hope of being available for most of 2021, and since we’re looking at another two months (give or take) without baseball anyway, that’s more time he could spend recovering. The way things are going, he may end up not missing much baseball at all.

I’m sort of leading with the silver linings for what’s a negative development overall, but let’s face it: Few were willing to put much faith in Sale anymore. His draft stock plummeted with the news of this latest elbow injury. With his 2019 also ending with an elbow injury, there was a feeling of inevitability here. The swiftness of the decision is sort of refreshing, particularly with the Yankees seemingly delaying the inevitable for some of their biggest players (namely Luis Severino) this offseason. Dynasty leaguers especially will welcome the chance to move forward without this cloud hanging over their ace pitcher’s head. It might also help explain some of the wonkiness in Sale’s 2019 stat line, where there were flashes of his trademark dominance amid frightening batted-ball trends.

Of course, there are leagues out there where the timing is far from perfect. Anyone who took Sale in a draft that’s already completed is probably campaigning for a redo right about now, and considering the health status for a number of players figures to change by the time the season finally begins, there’s a case to be made for it.

Then again, everyone will have already tipped their hand now, which to me isn’t worth giving up just so I can have the latest and most up-to-date information — and I say this as someone who grabbed Sale in a couple leagues. You’re never safe from having one of your players get injured, and there comes a point when you just have to accept that you’re locked in. Ultimately, it’s for you and your leaguemates to decide, but I’ve already developed a sentimental attachment to my teams. Don’t take them away from me!

As for who replaces Sale in the Red Sox rotation, it’s not going to be anyone particularly interesting. Maybe Collin McHugh will have time to get ready now after undergoing his own elbow procedure this offseason, and he had stretches of usefulness as a starting pitcher for the Astros, including at the start of last year. Overall, though, the track record is lackluster.

I made reference to dynasty leaguers earlier, and it’s worth pointing that Sale will be 32 before we see him pitching in a big-league game again, so in a long-term sense, we shouldn’t be as sanguine about his recovery as we are, say, Severino’s. While I wouldn’t be shopping him now, I wouldn’t necessarily be buying either, but of course, it depends on the asking price. High-end starting pitchers are the most valuable asset in the game today, after all, and Sale has been one of the most high-end for his entire career. If someone’s just looking to dump him, you should be eager to play the part of receptacle.

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