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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Can The Boston Red Sox Solve the Pablo Sandoval Situation?

A mere 18 months after signing a lucrative free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox, third baseman Pablo Sandoval has for all intents and purposes become a pariah with his new team. Having lost his starting job at the end of the recently concluded spring training, his future with the team is unknown, and at the same time feels untenable. With four seasons remaining on his deal, it’s incumbent upon the Red Sox to find a solution, but what can be done?

A career .290 hitter with three World Series titles to his credit in eight years with the San Francisco Giants, Sandoval arrived in Boston with big expectations. His introduction was a major letdown all the way around, as he hit just .245 with 10 home runs last year and was widely criticized for his perceived weight and conditioning problems. There had been hopes for a fresh start this year but frankly that was never going to happen unless he showed up to camp looking like a Gap model and hit home runs at a prodigious pace. To the contrary, the media has jumped at every chance to point at his girth and how that has contributed to his failings. There has been the gratuitous spring training belly photo, and most recently, the video of his belt breaking after an aggressive swing in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

I’m no health professional but as someone familiar with having a few extra pounds I’m comfortable saying Sandoval does not seem to have the body type where it could reasonably be expected that he is going to ever going to play at 185 pounds. We don’t have access to his actual weight but he doesn’t appear to be appreciably larger than when he was with the Giants (although one former trainer recently claimed the third baseman has a problem with food). The Red Sox knew what they were getting into (which included past weight issues with the Giants) when they signed him, so for anyone to hold that against him now or to “fat shame” him is pretty disingenuous.

During his career, when he’s produced, he’s been affectionately known as “Kung Fu Panda,” with fans delighting in his production despite his lack of a traditional professional athlete’s body. On the other hand, when he’s not doing well, he’s portrayed as a slob who is never far from another unflattering photo op or pratfall. Interestingly, he has a reputation as a hard worker on the field and as a good teammate, so his sins could actually be much greater.

Still just 29, redemption may be available down the road for Sandoval. It’s just hard to imagine there’s any way that could happen in Boston. Youngster Travis Shaw has taken his starting job and produced enough that removing him from the lineup would only create another strike against the veteran. For now, the recent addition of Sandoval to the disabled list has bought both parties some time. However, there are already conflicting reports that that transaction was either because of an actual medical issue or the start of his official exit out of town. This has become a “Carl Crawford Conundrum;” a term any Red Sox fan will recognize. It’s likely a waste of his time and a waste of the team’s time to prolong his stay much longer.

Including this season, Sandoval is due approximately $78 million on the remainder of his contract. To say it’s going to be difficult to move him would be an understatement. In all likelihood, the Red Sox would need to pair up with a team that has their own onerous contract and would be willing to do a swap. Given the amount of money involved, it’s a near certainty that Boston will need to sweeten the pot with a (good) prospect or two. The scenario that has gotten the most play in the internet rumor mill is sending the third baseman to the San Diego Padres in exchange for pitcher James Shields.

The right-handed Shields has been an above average pitcher for the better part of the last decade but is now 34 and has thrown at least 200 innings for nine consecutive years. The $63 million he is owed over the next three years (with a $2 million team buyout option in 2019) is no small afterthought. The disparity in money between him and Sandoval would also necessitate Boston including young talent in the deal, as the money does not match up.

Trading Sandoval for a pitcher like Shields may solve one issue but it could create even more. Bringing in the veteran hurler, who is no lock for prolonged above-average performance (which is desperately needed for a team still trying to get its starting pitching on track) for the remainder of his deal, would not only likely dip into the team’s strong farm system but would also tie up a rotation spot that could go to some of the promising youngsters currently on the farm. Talented prospects like Henry Owens and Brian Johnson, who have already had a hard time cracking Boston’s veteran-heavy staff, might find that their top value to the team is shifted from the mound to trade chips.

In theory, standing pat and doing nothing is another option but in that scenario, the team would have to be prepared to reap what it sows. To date, Sandoval has been a good soldier, saying and doing all the right things. However, the way he is being portrayed as a galoot in the media, combined with him seeing his stock fall by the day, means that may not last long—and understandably so.

There are no do-overs in baseball, especially when it comes to contracts. Pablo Sandoval has not worked out the way the Red Sox envisioned when they inked him to such a large contract, creating a situation where it will likely be in the best interests of both parties for a change of scenery. There may be opportunities for that to happen but the team and its fans best steel themselves for the fact that there will be no perfect solutions. 

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1 comment:

  1. The Red Sox could've easily seen this coming. The panda's #s in the regular season with the Giants got progressively worse every year from 2011-14. And while his weight doesn't necessarily affect his hitting, it does affect his fielding. And what would make anyone think that someone who struggled to stay in shape, would work at it once he had the security of a 5 year guaranteed deal?