Should the Boston Red Sox swap Pablo Sandoval for James Shields?


Sometimes the only way to correct a mistake is by exchanging it for someone else’s problem. That’s essentially what ESPN’s Jim Bowden suggested that the Boston Red Sox should do when he proposed the idea of sending Pablo Sandoval to the San Diego Padres in exchange for James Shields.

This trade rumor has floated around all summer, despite no evidence that the two teams have discussed it. As Bowden explains, there is some incentive for the Red Sox to consider the idea.

"“The Red Sox need to remake their starting rotation, and although Shields is no longer a top-of-the-rotation starter, he is a solid No. 2 or 3 who would serve as a definite upgrade for the Red Sox,” writes Bowden. “Just as importantly, he would provide valuable leadership for young Red Sox starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens, among others.”"

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Shields has been a bit of a disappointment for the Padres after signing a lucrative contract last winter to become their new ace. His 3.89 ERA would make him the envy of the Red Sox rotation, but it’s less impressive considering he’s pitching in the National League in arguably the best pitcher’s park in the majors. Despite making half his starts in the power-sapping environment he calls home, Shields is tied for the 8th most home runs allowed this season with 24.

As much as this season has shown us that it was a mistake to forgo having a proven ace to front the rotation, I still wanted no part in bringing Shields to Boston when he was sitting on the free agent market last winter. This was not only due to the risks in giving an expensive multi-year deal to a 33-year old pitcher, but also over concerns with his fit in a ball park where he owns a career 5.42 ERA. If you think he’s had issues giving up the long ball in San Diego, imagine how much worse it would be if he were pitching in the cozy confines of Fenway Park.

Signing Shields as a free agent would have been a mistake, but trading for him may not be. Not if it allows you to unload Sandoval’s deal. Shields is overpaid, but it’s money already spent if the alternative is to keep Sandoval, who is still owed $72.4 million after this season through 2019, plus a $17 million option that includes a $5 million buyout for 2020. Shields makes a bit more per season, but is only owed $63 million after this season through 2018, with a $2 million buyout on his $16 million option in 2019.

Even if Boston had to send cash to the Padres to make up some of the difference in long-term salary, it would be worth it to acquire a contract that they could get out of a year earlier than Sandoval’s.

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Signing both Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez last offseason was always a head-scratching decision, as the Red Sox choose to load up on bats and figure out where to play them later. Five months into the season they still haven’t figured out an effective way to use both of them, as they have each been among the worst defensive players in the game this season.

Moving Sandoval would allow the Red Sox to shift Ramirez back to third base, where he has some experience playing in previous stops with the Marlins and Dodgers. He was never a great defender at the hot corner, but he really can’t be much worse than Sandoval has been this year and certainly has to be better than he is in left field. This would ease the logjam on the roster and allow the Red Sox to deploy an outfield of Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. That’s a very good defensive setup patrolling the outfield, which is essential when a fly ball pitcher like Shields takes the mound.

The downside in acquiring Shields is that it complicates how the Red Sox will restructure their rotation for next season. Shields could end up being the best pitcher on this staff, but he’s no longer the ace that Boston needs. The Red Sox are seemingly stuck with Rick Porcello‘s albatross of a contract and Clay Buchholz is likely to return on an affordable $13 million option. Wade Miley is still owed a total of $15 million over the next two seasons, so we can assume he’s still in the mix. That’s four starters already, if you include Shields, without factoring in any of the young lefties that are being groomed to be the future core of this rotation.

If this deal were to be made, waiting until after the season would make more sense than an August waiver deal. Perhaps they could move one of their incumbent starters to clear a spot in the rotation. Otherwise there’s no room for the Red Sox to chase an ace on the free agent or trade market.

San Diego showed interest in Sandoval over the winter, so perhaps he still has some appeal to them. While his .257/.308/.390 slash line has been a disappointment in Boston, it would be considered an upgrade for the Padres lineup. A move back to the familiar NL West could also help spark a resurgence from the Panda.

The Red Sox and Padres are both suffering from buyer’s remorse following their offseason spending sprees. Both teams will be looking to make drastic changes after the season, but they may be able to help each other hit the reset button on their past mistakes.