FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For the past two months, Major League Baseball's investigation into allegations that the Red Sox illegally stole signs during their 2018 championship season has hung over the franchise like the proverbial sword of Damocles, threatening to further disrupt what has already been a tumultuous offseason.
The investigation is ongoing, with recent reports suggesting it may be closer to Opening Day before MLB issues its findings and expected punishment.
Suddenly, however, the MLB investigation is far from their top priority. The Red Sox have more serious matters with which to deal.
Sometime later next week, Chris Sale will begin throwing a baseball again. He'll begin with simple long toss, graduate to bullpen sessions, and eventually, live batting practice and then games.
That progression, of course, is a best-case scenario. Should Sale encounter any more discomfort in the elbow area along the way, odds are good that he'll be facing the prospect of Tommy John surgery. Such a procedure will not only sideline Sale for more than a year, but also, potentially alter the trajectory of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
Given their offensive strengths, improved depth and a fairly reliable bullpen, the Sox had reason to believe that they could contend for a wild card spot with a healthy Sale. A front three of Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi is a strong rotation -- assuming good health for all involved.
The Red Sox might not be legitimate threats to unseat the Yankees as A.L. East champs, but they could reasonably expect to win somewhere between 85-90 games, which, recent history suggests, would be enough to keep them in the running for the playoffs well into September. With a break here or there, or surprise contributions along the way, they might even qualify for the postseason.