It happened once again. You have to wonder whether Josh Sale is going for the cycle of suspensions because he has been forced to the sideline for performance-enhancing drugs, disciplinary reasons, and now drugs of abuse. This isn’t one problem or one fatal flaw. This a player who entered the 2010 MLB Draft–and even the 2012 season–with high marks for character and then simply fell apart entirely. If you haven’t had enough yet, the Tampa Bay Rays are not yet ready to cut ties.
Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said the team was “disappointed” but indicated Sale will remain in the organization, saying he will serve his punishment and “work closely with our Employee Assistance Program to determine a way forward.”
At the end of the day, the Rays have nothing to lose keeping Sale. His signing bonus is a sunk cost and his minor league salary is negligible in the grand scheme of things. We can still see Sale’s bat speed and raw power, and the Rays remember how Josh Hamilton turned out. But Sale never had Hamilton’s talent, and you have to wonder how much more patience the Rays have.
It was not as though Sale was playing well this year. Prior to the suspension, he had a .238/.313/.344 line at High-A Charlotte, with his .657 OPS being the worst of any player on the team with a minimum of 275 plate appearances. As ironic as it may be given his lack of discipline off the field, plate discipline was once a trademark of Josh Sale’s game. This season, however, he struck out 109 times against 35 walks. Despite his lack of production, Sale still struck out the seventh-most times in the Florida State League while recording the third-highest strikeout rate of any hitter minimum 350 plate appearances.
Sale isn’t following Hamilton’s career path–he is following Matt Bush‘s. Obviously, Bush wound up going to jail for hitting a motorcyclist while drunk driving, and Sale has done nothing anywhere near that bad. That being said, a comparison to Sale fits relatively well to who Bush was with the San Diego Padres. Sale’s .714 OPS in the Rays system may be closer to Hamilton’s .807 mark with the Rays than Bush’s .569 mark with the Padres, but it isn’t difficult to tip the scale in the other direction. Hamilton was a five-tool centerfielder and Bush was a high-upside shortstop while Sale was a pure left fielder who would have to hit at every level and simply has not. We can also remind ourselves that Sale’s OPS was below .660 in every year but 2012 and, by the way, Sale lacks the arm strength to move to the mound like Bush did. Josh Sale isn’t just a player who has gotten into boatloads of trouble–he is one who lacks the talent for the Rays to believe in him much longer. The Rays are sticking with Sale for now, but this may be and should be his last chance.