Red Sox Pablo Sandoval justifies fear of long-term contracts
Fear the reaper of free agent contracts. The Boston Red Sox still stand in a cloud of mystery in what to do about third baseman Pablo Sandoval for 2017.
When Ian Browne of MLB.com was asked about Sandoval’s value as a designated hitter, if he were to lose the starting third baseman role next season, Browne stated:
"It depends on how well Sandoval hits. After missing such a long time, it might take him a while to regain his hitting stroke. I think Sandoval will get ample opportunity throughout Spring Training to prove what he can do and win back the hot corner. If that doesn’t happen, look for him to split time at third and DH. He still has three years left on his contract, so it would be best for all parties if he can get back to being a productive player."
Much of that is an understatement, when reflecting on Sandoval’s five-year, $95 million that lasts until 2019.
The two-time All-Star and three-time World Series winner hasn’t showed much of any stroke, before or after the left shoulder strain that required surgery and kept him out of the lineup since this April. After signing that huge contract in November of 2014, Sandoval hit just .245 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs in 126 games for the 2015 campaign.
From being a World Series MVP in 2012, the last two seasons alone have been a giant fall from grace, considering his days in San Francisco.
The switch-hitting 30-year-old hasn’t exactly been a rock for the Red Sox on defense, either. Not that protecting the hot corner was ever his strong suit, but Sandoval posted a .949 fielding percentage in 2015, while the league average was .958. The year before the contract, Sandoval had improved his glove to a .971 fielding percentage, but he had ballooned his errors and his body to the point where his range factor was nowhere near the league average.
From running around the bases and being removed for what was called “dehydration” to breaking his belt on a swing in Toronto, his physical girth put massive fear in the hearts of Red Sox Nation as they reflected on the girth of his contract still to come.
However, it’s not like the Red Sox can run from it now. Really, what choice do they have but to play Sandoval?
Travis Shaw, Aaron Hill, Yoan Moncada, and Brock Holt are the only other current Red Sox players to have spent time at third base in the last couple of seasons. Holt has proven that he’s more useful to the Red Sox as a utility player than a starter. Hill is a free agent this offseason and, considering the lack of playing time Hill received, he’s likely not coming back. Moncada, although likely to be the future of the team, hasn’t proven that he can hit in the big leagues, striking out 12 times in 19 at-bats.
And, while Shaw won the starting job at third base before the 2016 season began, his .242 batting average didn’t exactly look much different than Sandoval’s disappointing debacle the year before.
Even if some prospect or veteran on the current roster could win the job next spring, it still doesn’t solve the issue of what to do with Sandoval. The Red Sox have to find a way to get him to hit, which means a ton of playing time in Spring Training, whether as a DH or a third baseman.
By needing his contract to show some worth, proving to the fans that the money is not being spent on a pine-riding asset, Sandoval becomes a problem for future deals. His contract pays Sandoval instead of it going to other big-name free agent hitters, like Edwin Encarnacion, and makes management second-guess whether they should bring someone in or see if they can get something out of their original signing.
The team can’t trade someone who isn’t attracting suitors from other MLB teams. The only way that the Red Sox can get out of this contract is if Sandoval started looking more like the player whom previous executive brass felt that he was going to be. If that were to happen, whether it be a miracle or not, then the Red Sox might not feel as burdened to keep him another three years.
That’s the problem: nobody, including Sandoval, knows when that’s going to be.
Next: Boston Red Sox Report Cards: Travis Shaw
Signing a big name is fun for the fans until it’s time to deliver. Free agents continue to ask for big money for a long period of time; yet, there are no guarantees that the team will reap the rewards of their investment. If Sandoval never plays another game for the Red Sox, he still gets his money. Other than personal pride, what motivates a big name like Sandoval, a man who has already won multiple championships, to break out of his funk and start proving his worth on the field as well as in his wallet?
Fear the big-name free agents, for they may bring a risk far greater than any benefit that they project on paper.