The champagne in the visitors clubhouse of Dodger Stadium had hardly begun to dry before the Boston Red Sox took the first steps toward trying to accomplish in 2018 what the Houston Astros did this season. Two of their top pitchers and most important players could have hit free agency this year, but Boston had no intention of allowing that to happen. The early hours of Thursday morning saw the Red Sox exercise options built into the contracts of Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, ensuring both would return next season.
Red Sox Exercise Options on Sale, Kimbrel
Over the course of the 2018 season, Sale will earn $12.5 million, while Kimbrel will earn $13 million. The return of the two all-world hurlers to Boston next season was a foregone conclusion. Without either one, the Red Sox would surely not have won their second American League East title in a row.
Sale, for his part, had perhaps the best season any Red Sox pitcher has compiled since Pedro Martinez‘s 1999 campaign. He tossed 214.3 innings and struck out a mind-boggling 308 batters, both of which put him atop the AL in those categories. The strikeouts left him a mere five short of Martinez’s team record of 313. He set a major league record for number of games with 10 or more strikeouts in a single season, and topped it all off with a sparkling 2.90 ERA. He may still lose out on the Cy Young Award to Corey Kluber, but that won’t make him any less deserving of the honor.
Sale’s true value, however, came from his presence. The Red Sox rotation experienced more than its share of turbulence due to injury in 2017. Knowing that Sale was there at the top to stop the bleeding did a lot to mitigate that. It didn’t take him long to establish himself as a leader in the clubhouse and as a fan-favorite, either. His fiery, defiant personality endeared him to Red Sox nation, and gave the team someone to rally around. Now the de facto captain, Sale place in Boston is as secure as any player’s could be.
Not to be outdone, Kimbrel bounced back from an inconsistent 2016 to once again establish himself as perhaps the top relief pitcher in baseball. He converted 35 of 39 save opportunities, finished with a miniscule 1.43 ERA, and struck out 126 batters (against just 14 walks!) in 69 innings. That’s just nice, plain and simple.
Kimbrel was so dominant that he came less than half a perrcentage point away from striking out half the batters he faced. He finished the season averaging 16.4 K/9, which translated to an unhearof strikeout percentage of 49.6.
Sale will likely not reach free agency after 2018, either, as his contract also includes a $13 million option for 2019. Kimbrel, however, will become a free agent if the Red Sox do not extend his contract. If he pitches anywhere close to his 2017 form, they would be hard-pressed to justify letting him walk.
The Red Sox are just getting started on their offseason. They still need a power bat (or two), the lack of which stuck out sorely far too often this season. They would also benefit from signing another starting pitcher, though that is a secondary need. Dave Dombrowski with certainly be busy, as this team should once again compete for the postseason.