It might be good to have the Boston Red Sox highly paid Pablo Sandoval out of the picture for 2016, but what does that mean through 2019 when his contract expires? Let’s look at how this could shake out.
When the news broke last night that Pablo Sandoval was likely gone for the rest of the 2016 season with a “significant shoulder injury,” as some reports have indicated, the reaction seemed to be happiness that the Mayor of Ding Dong City, Travis Shaw, will be playing third base for the 2016 season. We won’t have to worry about the Panda stewing on the bench this year, but what does this mean beyond this season?
Who is going to be the third baseman for 2017?
The school of thought seemed to be that the Red Sox were just stashing Hanley Ramirez at first base for 2016. When David Ortiz rides off into the sunset after this season, like most other teams in the American League, the designated hitter slot is going to be wide open at that point and a perfect spot for Hanley. Shaw can play first base instead of Hanley, then Sandoval can return to his duties at third base.
If the recovery period is longer maybe Shaw will have to stay at third base until Sandoval is ready to come back. It has been clear this season that the team is striving to make decisions based on winning rather than payroll. Whether Shaw is making just over the minimum or Panda is making $19 million per season, they want the best guy out there to win games, period. But they aren’t just going to release Sandoval and eat the $58M he is owed after this season and through 2019.
If you want Sandoval gone, he is going to have to prove his worth
It is likely that many of you out there in Red Sox Nation have thought of the scenarios that could happen if Sandoval is out of the picture. The most enticing is the prospect of current Toronto Blue Jays masher Edwin Encarnacion coming to Boston next season, after being anointed as the heir apparent by Big Papi himself. If Sandoval was out of the picture, Hanley and Encarnacion could split time between first base and DH and everyone might be happy. While Encarnacion is off to a slow start through 27 games this season (.667 OPS), he has exceeded .900 in OPS for the last four seasons.
If Sandoval is going to be jettisoned by the Red Sox, he is going to have to prove his worth to a potential trade partner. Earlier this season, there was some thought (assuming Sandoval’s health) that he could be flipped to San Diego for the former Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields, who has a similarly onerous contract (owed about $62 million through the end of 2018, but can opt-out after this year). The Padres were not getting third base production, and it was thought to be a good fit at least based on Sandoval’s pre-Red Sox success. All this is out the window now, it would seem. Who is going to want to take on an unknown quantity and all that salary? Answer: nobody.
Much as the Red Sox would like to see Sandoval in another team’s uniform when he is healthy, he is going to have to come back to the Red Sox and start playing well. It becomes something of a Catch-22. You trade him if he is not playing well, but if he is playing well, why would you want to trade him? One reason is that even if he is playing well, maybe you could get better production out of Shaw for two percent of the payroll.
Granted, the Red Sox are going to have to pick up some of that contract that he is still owed in any potential deal. You don’t want to get in the habit of trading your best prospects away as they did to get Craig Kimbrel from San Diego. You will pay the money if it helps the team in the long run. Remember also, there will be numerous suitors for Encarnacion’s services, one of which will be the New York Yankees who have Mark Teixeira‘s $23M coming off the books for next season.
Rather than looking at Sandoval’s injury for the remainder of this season as a way to get rid of him, consider how it might help the team in the long run. You get Shaw at third base for a whole season to see what he can do there. Can he hit for an entire season in the majors? Hanley gets more comfortable at first base, which he has handled better than anyone could have expected. Plan on Sandoval’s return to health and production. Maybe the shoulder was troubling him during last year’s sub-par season. The jury still seems to be out on that speculation. The bottom line is Sandoval will be on the Red Sox roster until he is healthy and productive enough to be dealt if that is the avenue they want to go.
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