Atlanta Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos continues his efforts to better the club for the upcoming 2024 season. In the team’s most recent move they traded Vaughn Grissom to the Red Sox for seven-time All-Star pitcher Chris Sale. The veteran southpaw has spent the last half of his career in Boston, though his early years have been more productive than the last couple. The Red Sox already have ample questions surrounding its rotation, so why trade one of its best arms, when healthy, for a 23-year-old middle infielder? Are the Braves overlooking the massive risks with Sale for the potential reward of another difference maker in its rotation? What does this trade mean for fantasy baseball purposes? Let’s dissect this MLB breaking news from a fantasy standpoint, and forecast what the fantasy baseball ADP for Sale and Grissom could look like moving forward.
Let’s start with Chris Sale, as he is the bigger name here in the deal. Sale was an ace, both in reality and fantasy, back in 2017 and 2018, but since then, it’s been rough sledding. While the strikeouts were great in 2019 (13.32 K/9), his ERA ballooned to a career-high 4.40. From there, he didn’t pitch in 2020, and has logged a combined 151 innings pitched over the last three seasons for the Red Sox, spanning just 31 starts. Sale did manage to throw 102.2 IP last season, his highest since 2019, but he once again missed time with shoulder inflammation. Upon his return from the injured list in August, despite going just 1-3, he posted a 3.92 ERA, 30.7 percent strikeout rate, and 1.05 WHIP over his final nine starts. His velocity was a bit down upon his return, so that is worth noting.
Sale might never be the fantasy ace again that he was in his younger years, but getting out of Boston should be good for him. He should be rejuvenated playing for a very, very talented Atlanta squad, and we’ve seen the coaching in Atlanta do some good things with pitchers in its rotation. Additionally, Sale won’t have the pressure of leading the rotation, as he’ll slot in as Atlanta’s No. 3 or No. 4 starter. Injuries have limited him in recent years, and even across last year’s 20 starts, his peripherals indicate that his ERA should have been closer to 3.75 last year than his 4.30 mark. For comparison’s sake, if he posted a 3.75 ERA with his same 29.4 percent strikeout rate, his numbers are more comparable to Freddy Peralta (3.86 ERA, 30.9 K%) than Dylan Cease (4.58 ERA, 27.3 K%).
With Trevor Story moving back to shortstop this season, there was an opening at second base that Grissom should slide into seamlessly. He’s never posted big time power numbers in the minors, at least in terms of home runs, but he’s hit for a solid average at every stop, including a .287/.339/.407 slash line in 64 career games at the MLB level with the Braves. He’s shown no split disadvantages in his short MLB career, and maybe the hitter-friendly Fenway Park can play up some of his mediocre batted ball metrics. I do worry about him in leagues that value OBP, as he’s left the zone a bit more often than one would like in the big league level. With all that in mind, he will be just 23 years old this season, so there’s plenty of maturation and development still to occur. While this doesn’t matter as much for fantasy specifically, he’ll need to improve defensively, regardless of where he plays, as he’s graded out rather poorly with the glove, to say the least.
How does this impact both of the average draft positions (ADP) for each of these guys? Well, Grissom will see a larger jump, because he has a much clearer path to playing time and he was practically free in drafts to begin with, so that’s the easy answer. Sale has less room for growth, but the move to a better team should see his ADP bump up a couple of spots. Grissom is a fine pick in the later rounds of your drafts, and regardless of what jersey Sale is wearing, the biggest question with him remains the same; Can he stay healthy enough to give your fantasy team quality innings? When healthy, he still has good stuff with great strikeout numbers, and the last two months of the 2023 season show that he can still be a solid fantasy starter and improve your team’s ratios. However, he’s made just 31 starts over the past four seasons, missing time due to Tommy John surgery, a stress fracture in his rib, a finger fracture, and shoulder inflammation.
Sale is a high-risk, high-ish reward fantasy pick, and his supporting cast should put him in line for plenty of wins in 2024, health willing.