Braves acquire Chris Sale, cash from Red Sox for Vaughn Grissom

The Atlanta Braves acquired left-hander Chris Sale from the Boston Red Sox for infielder Vaughn Grissom on Saturday, shoring up their rotation with the seven-time All-Star they hope rounds out a World Series-caliber roster.

Sale waived his no-trade clause to consummate the deal, which followed months of efforts from the Braves to add a starting pitcher to a rotation that already includes Spencer Strider, Max Fried and Charlie Morton. Although Grissom had been part of prospective trades this winter, including offers for Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, he wound up being what it took to get Sale, who will go to Atlanta along with $17 million to offset his $27.5 million salary in 2024, per sources.

Sale, 34, is coming off his best season since 2019, having posted a 4.30 ERA in 102⅔ innings with 125 strikeouts, 29 walks and 15 home runs allowed. From 2020 to 2022, Sale threw only 48⅓ innings. Tommy John surgery kept him out in 2020 and most of 2021, and a rib injury delayed his 2022 debut for months, only for a comebacker to break his left pinkie in his first start back and end his season.

Sale's stuff, although not as dynamic as his exceptional peak, remains well above average, and Atlanta will insert him into a rotation that's among the best in baseball. The Braves opened the offseason as World Series favorites, but the Los Angeles Dodgers edged ahead of Atlanta after their signings of two-way star Shohei Ohtani and right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Sale, who is 120-80 with a 3.10 ERA and the highest strikeout rate ever for a starting pitcher -- 11.1 per nine innings, against just 2.1 walks per nine -- has been one of the finest pitchers of his generation and is set to reach free agency after 2024.

The Braves, stocked with All-Stars at seven of nine offensive positions and coming off a brutal division series exit after a 104-win regular season, have been the most active team in baseball this winter. President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has made nine trades this winter and moved around tens of millions of dollars, all in an attempt to upgrade his team in the middle of a rare window.

No team has negotiated the long-term-contract business as well as the Braves. Among those locked up: reigning National League MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. (through 2028), third baseman Austin Riley (2033), first baseman Matt Olson (2030), second baseman Ozzie Albies (2027), center fielder Michael Harris II (2032), catcher Sean Murphy (2029) and Strider (2029), who finished fourth in Cy Young voting this year.

With no clear path for Grissom to get regular at-bats -- he has played outfield, too, but the trade for Jarred Kelenic gave Atlanta its left fielder -- he became expendable. Grissom, who turns 23 this week, made his big league debut in 2022 after just 22 games above Class A. He looked every bit the part of a major leaguer over his first 26 games, hitting .347/.398/.558 while filling in for an injured Albies. After Dansby Swanson left for the Chicago Cubs in free agency, Grissom entered 2023 hopeful to replace him at shortstop. Orlando Arcia won the job in spring training, and Grissom spent most of the season at Triple-A, where he hit .330/.419/.501 playing mostly shortstop. In limited big league time, he hit .280/.313/.347 but struggled defensively at shortstop.

Grissom could fill the Red Sox's open second-base job, which has been a subject of discontent from an increasingly agitated Boston fan base. After a winter in which they'd spent only $1 million, new Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow made his first big signing, giving right-hander Lucas Giolito a two-year, $38.5 million contract that includes an opt-out after the first season.

Boston immediately pivoted in another direction, moving Sale seven years after acquiring him in a blockbuster trade that sent top prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the White Sox, where Sale spent his first seven major league seasons. Sale arrived in 2017 as Boston's ace, finishing second in American League Cy Young voting, and in 2018 closed out the team's World Series victory against the Dodgers. Over the past four seasons, as Sale missed significant time, the Red Sox finished in last place in the AL East three times.

The Braves, who won the 2021 World Series, will enter 2024 with perhaps their deepest pitching staff under Anthopoulos. In addition to Strider, Fried, Sale and Morton, there's a panoply of worthy contenders for the fifth rotation spot. After watching Texas weather pitching injuries en route to a World Series title, the Braves' starting depth is enviable. It includes their only free agent signing this winter -- right-hander Reynaldo Lopez, who was guaranteed $30 million over three years -- plus 2023 All-Star Bryce Elder, top prospect A.J. Smith-Shawver, World Series hero Ian Anderson and, perhaps later in the season, 2023 first-round pick Hurston Waldrep.