Anyone miss Will Middlebrooks? Maybe that was going too far, but it was still a fair question when looking at how successful (or horrific) the Pablo Sandoval signing has been for the Boston Red Sox at third base. The left forearm injury that Sandoval suffered two nights ago, after being struck by a pitch, could have happened to anyone. The ‘dehydration’ incident on the other hand could only happen to a man like Sandoval, moving from first to home more like a broken-down station wagon that’s out of gas than the vibrant Kung Fu Panda.
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That embarrassing play the other night was just the tip of the Titanic-esque iceberg that has sunk Red Sox Nation’s hopes that Sandoval would help their team. For a man who is signed through 2019 on a five-year contract worth $95 million and a $17 million team option for 2020, Sandoval is hitting .260 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 92 games. He was brought in to be one of the big-name hitters on the team, and yet five other Red Sox players have more RBIs than Sandoval and Dustin Pedroia has the same amount even though he’s played 17 fewer games. Sandoval has struck out 49 times to only earning 18 walks. With an on-base percentage of .307 and a slugging percentage of .379, he’s not doing himself or his team much good being in the lineup.
To put that last part into perspective, utility player Brock Holt, Boston’s only 2015 All-Star, has a .364 OBP and a .396 SLG in 84 games. A man who doesn’t even get the distinction of being a starter is of more use to the team than Sandoval. Even if the Red Sox don’t pick up his option, it will still cost the team $5 million to get rid of him.
Enter Travis Shaw.
In yesterday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Shaw went 4-for-4 with three RBIs, a walk, and even crossed the plate for five out of the 11 runs that the Red Sox scored in the victory. If that isn’t being instrumental to a team, what is?
Christopher Smith of MassLive.com covered the game and reported what Boston’s manager John Farrell said about Shaw’s performance:
"“Travis looks like he has been here for years the way he swung the bat today, the way he played third base, […] He makes a key tag of a big out in that sixth inning otherwise we’re looking at a tie score when (Kevin) Kiermaier tries to steal third base.”– John Farrell"
The 25-year-old righty hitter is officially designated as a first baseman by MLB.com, but he has had his defensive time in Boston split between there and third base for Sandoval, like yesterday. He’s had a perfect fielding percentage at both positions in those nine games. A small sample size to be sure; however, with a good history of defense in the minors as well, Shaw’s quicker feet and determination give some Red Sox fans more hope than Sandoval when he steps on the field. Sandoval has made 12 errors for a .944 Fld% in 90 games at third. The league average at that position is .954.
Jul 20, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Smith equates the positives of Shaw’s bat to his power potential and his ability to reach base, even in batting slumps. A .359 OBP in 521 career minor league games is proof. “‘That’s always been one of the strong suits of my game is being able to control counts,’ Shaw said. ‘Even when things are going bad, I still don’t really try to chase too much out of the strike zone. So that’s always been a strong suit.”
In spite of it all, Gordon Edes of ESPN wrote that Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is committed to keeping Sandoval at third base. At least for now:
"“If there are things he needs to do or that we need to challenge [him], those are things we’ll talk about with him behind closed doors. We know he wants to be good, and he has been good. He can be again. Certainly, he is capable of doing that.’’– Ben Cherington"
By his own admission, Cherington concedes that Sandoval has not lived up to his end of the generous contract that he was given in the off-season, at least defensively. Edes doesn’t let Cherington off the hook, either. While Cherington publicly stated that the team is to improve its pitching and defense in the last two months of the season, Edes called out Cherington by saying it was his fault for the issues in the first place: “It’s easy to identify the two biggest defensive liabilities, Sandoval and [left fielder Hanley] Ramirez, who were quickly added last offseason because the Sox felt they needed more run producers. Their grand plan, which also involved remaking the team’s starting rotation, obviously hasn’t worked.”
Regardless of the waiver wire coming up in August before the end of the season, nobody will know the best plan for what to do with Sandoval until they know more about their options in players like Shaw. The Red Sox need to find out what Shaw can do for them on a more consistent basis, instead of the ‘high-quality’ guessing they did when signing big names like Sandoval to fill holes in a leaking ship. All that Sandoval did was make the hole at third base a more costly one to fix. If Shaw can play better than Sandoval for the rest of the month, maybe it will be time to start packing Sandoval up for baggage claim on the waiver list.
Anyone wanting to take on Sandoval’s contract this late in the year may be crazy, but Cherington got sold on his post-season success to give him the money in the first place. Maybe some other general manager will take a risk, too. Either way, Shaw is one of very few options to seeing a three-time World Series champion fall on his face, defensively and at the plate. Which would you choose?
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