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Pablo Sandoval Benching Is New Low in $95M Bust with Red Sox

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 31, 2016

Mar 9, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox infielder Pablo Sandoval (48) takes a cut in the third  inning  of the spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates    at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

When the Boston Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval in the winter of 2014, their hope was surely that he would take his game to new heights.

Instead, Sandoval has gone down, down and down some more. And on Thursday morning, you could practically hear the THUD of him hitting bottom.

Signed for $95 million just 16 months ago, the word out of Red Sox camp is that Sandoval is no longer the club's starting third baseman. As reported by Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, Boston skipper John Farrell has handed that job to the upstart candidate, Travis Shaw.

In explaining himself, Farrell didn't make things complicated:

Pete Abraham @PeteAbe

Farrell: "My focus is on the guys that are in uniform, not what’s attached to them or what their contract states."

Although this is an event that should be surprising, it's not.

Sandoval entered spring training off a 2015 season that was several different shades of disastrous. The 29-year-old hit just .245 with a .658 OPS, marking the worst offensive season of his career. Per the advanced metrics, he also played some terrible defense. All together, Boston's big offseason investment might have been in the worst everyday player in baseball.

2015's Lowest fWARs
PlayerTeamWAR
Pablo SandovalRed Sox-2.0
Victor MartinezTigers-2.0
Hanley RamirezRed Sox-1.8
FanGraphs

The Red Sox have seen more of the same from Sandoval this spring. Though he's shown off some decent power, he's hit only .244. And as Ian Browne of MLB.com reported, Sandoval's continued struggles on defense also had a hand in his new position on the depth chart.

For his part, Shaw clearly deserves his spot. Though his arrival in the big leagues last season wasn't met with much fanfare, it resulted in a .270 average, an .813 OPS and 13 home runs in 65 games. He's stayed warm this spring, hitting .333 with an .886 OPS.

Whether Shaw is really the answer the Red Sox seek at third base, though, remains to be seen.

The 25-year-old's modest minor league numbers (.261 AVG, .803 OPS) suggest he's hitting way over his head. And though he's not totally out of water at third base, he fits better at first base. As R.J. Anderson wrote at CBS Sports, the Red Sox are banking more on Shaw's "acumen for the game" than they are on his talent.

Still, there's no blaming the Red Sox for rolling the dice on Shaw over Sandoval. Where the former earned his chance, the latter ran out of chances.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The Red Sox's decision to sign Sandoval ahead of the 2015 season had "knee jerk" written all over it.

Boston was clearly desperate to patch up an offense that was one of the worst in the American League en route to a last-place finish in 2014, and Sandoval was coming off a red-hot run through the postseason with the San Francisco Giants that ultimately led to his third World Series ring.

Oh, but the red flags were there.

Sandoval's dominant postseason obscured the reality that his offense was actually in a steady decline. There were also the ever-present concerns over Sandoval's annual struggles with his weight, and his consistent defiance that his heft was actually a problem.

"I feel in shape," he told MLB.com at one point. "Who cares what other people say? I'm here to do my job."

If that was Sandoval's attitude before his big payday, it raises the question of what assurance the Red Sox had that it wouldn't be his attitude after his big payday.

Perhaps now-former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington decided to take what Sandoval told Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan in spring of 2013 to heart.

"I've got this year and next year to change all the things," Sandoval said. "It's going to take me a while, but I can do it. I know I can do it. You need to learn. You need to grow up. You need to step up and know the difference between what you can do and what you can't."

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Sandoval's timeline put him on track to start getting serious in 2015, just in time for his first season in Boston.

Instead, Sandoval never even bothered to try. He showed up to spring training with a boiler heard 'round the Internet, and failed to put concerns to rest by hitting just .259 with a .662 OPS in the exhibition season. Maybe "pathetic" is too strong, but that performance sure ended up being prophetic.

As the Red Sox were careening toward another last-place finish in the AL East, Sandoval's facepalm-worthy season is one thing among many that led to Cherington's ouster in August. In came Dave Dombrowski, and among his directives was that Sandoval spend the winter getting into better shape.

In January, the news was good. Farrell told Sean McAdam of CSN New England that Sandoval was 20 pounds lighter than he had been at the end of 2015. After the club's signing of David Price and trades for Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, this was another bit of good news in an exciting hot-stove season for the Red Sox.

But then, this happened:

Jared Carrabis @Jared_Carrabis

Welp. Here it is. Via the @BostonGlobe, the picture that everyone's going to be talking about tomorrow. https://t.co/FbWPrm8DfH

And then, this happened:

Pete Abraham @PeteAbe

Sandoval claimed he was not asked to lose weight. Dombrowski, Farrell, Lovello all on the record over time saying he was.

Which brings us to today, and what the heck the Red Sox are supposed to do with Sandoval now. 

The best option is trading him. A recent report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggests the San Diego Padres may be interested in a deal. If so, they're probably not the only team intrigued by taking a flier on a two-time All-Star and three-time champion who's still on the good side of 30.

But as Sandoval goes, so goes his value. The only way the Red Sox are moving him for anything of value now is by eating a good chunk of the nearly $80 million he's still owed, or if they agree to a bad contract swap.

If the Red Sox go through with keeping Sandoval on the pine, they don't have much choice but to hope his benching lights a fire under him and inspires him to try to win back his starting role.

But there's not much hope for this hope. Scott Lauber of ESPN.com wasn't out of line when he recently scolded Sandoval for having thin skin. That's something he's demonstrated time and again. Rather than inspire him to ramp up his give-a-you-know-what meter, his benching may leave the Red Sox with a piece of mopey dead weight on their bench.

For now, choosing Shaw over Sandoval at third base is the best the Red Sox can make of a bad situation. And if Shaw continues to surprise them, that's just another reason to buy into the notion that they can pull off a worst-to-first season in 2016.

If they're lucky, Sandoval will either soon be gone or will ultimately find a way to be a part of it. If they're unlucky, he'll stay in a pit of his own making and see how deep it goes.

Regular-season stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked. Spring training stats courtesy of MLB.com.

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