If Chris Sale is healthy, the 2020 season could work out well for the Boston Red Sox. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The longer the Boston Red Sox wait, the more ominous it looks.

Since the offseason began, they’ve added payroll rather than subtract it – though Martin Perez and Jose Peraza aren’t exactly headline names. The Red Sox still need to shed about $30 million to meet their desired goal to get under the luxury tax threshold. And most of the teams that need starting pitching have taken care of it.

After the Angels agreed with former Braves All-Star Julio Teheran this week, the Cardinals and Dodgers look like the only two teams left who both need a starter and could have enough payroll to handle a trade with the Red Sox.

But before getting into that, let’s offer a reminder this holiday season that there’s just one gift the Red Sox need to have any chance at all in 2020: a healthy Chris Sale.

Without a healthy Sale, there is no 2020 season.

Whether it’s David Price or Mookie Betts who exits Boston this winter, the Red Sox could just as well be a competitive team next year if they have a healthy ace atop their rotation.

Think about it: even if they trade Betts, the offense is plenty good enough (fourth-best in MLB last year) to win some games. They’ll have to replace Betts somehow, and it’s not terribly difficult to find a serviceable right fielder (MLB average OPS in right field last year was .796).

J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi can carry a lineup, as long as the starting pitching is good.

Sale, Price, Perez, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez is every bit as good as the next rotation if, and we know this is a big if, Sale is healthy.

Now play the game if they trade Price and Jackie Bradley Jr. to save their desired $30 million.

The rotation is Sale, Perez, Eovaldi, Rodriguez and one other to-be-determined (hopefully younger) starter.

The offense has Betts, Martinez, Bogaerts, Devers and Benintendi yet again.

This version looks much better, of course, because there’s another MVP-type in the lineup.

And again this version relies on the same player to take a solid team into the wild-card conversation.

It’s all on Sale.

When a team is built around a generational left-hander who has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the history of the game, that team can usually succeed with or without its second-most-important player.

The Dodgers are a good example. They’ve been loaded with talent every year, but tend to go as far as Clayton Kershaw will take them. He was dominant in the 2018 postseason until he ran into the Red Sox.

Too many years before that, he wasn’t, and the Dodgers disappointed.

We still don’t know if Sale’s elbow is going to respond well to the injection he had at the end of the season, and if one offseason will be enough for him to rebuild strength in his creaky elbow and previously injured shoulder.

There’s a new pitching coach, Dave Bush, who learned under Brian Bannister. And perhaps the Red Sox will change their philosophy after getting so predictable in 2019 that catcher Christian Vazquez said, quite frankly, the entire league knew what they were doing.

A few tweaks here and there, and a long offseason of rest and rehab, will give Sale a chance to be the force he once was.

“I hate to say he’s on a mission, but obviously he wasn’t happy with the way the season went last year” Manager Alex Cora said at the winter meetings. “He was trending up when he got hurt at the end.”

So as we sit around the mistletoe drinking egg nog while waiting for the other shoe to drop, wondering if the Red Sox will get lucky and find a taker for Price or if they’ll be forced to move on from Betts a year early, we do so knowing that either way, they still have a chance to be OK next year.

Maybe not great, but at least competitive.

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