Boston Red Sox: Trevor Plouffe as a Pablo Sandoval failsafe

Jun 16, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Trevor Plouffe (24) hits a single in the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 16, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Trevor Plouffe (24) hits a single in the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

There are reasons to doubt Pablo Sandoval holds down third base for the Red Sox. With little backup in place, it’s time to look outside the organization.

When the Boston Red Sox pulled the trigger for Tyler Thornburg and Chris Sale, the first thought on most fans’ minds was, awesome, Dave Dombrowski just filled two big holes on this roster.

Upon further contemplation, a scary thought arises: the Red Sox just traded Yoan Moncada and Travis Shaw. Right now, the starting third baseman of this team is unequivocally Pablo Sandoval.

Now in the unlikely scenario that anyone is at a loss for any, there are countless reasons to doubt a Sandoval comeback season. Constant weight concerns, social media fiascoes, shoulder injuries and simple under-performance, no one should be sure that the 30-year old will return to San Francisco form.

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Yes, recent reports of Sandoval weight loss are again surfacing in what already feels like an annual occurrence. But regardless of what the Panda’s weight is coming into 2017, on-field results are what ultimately matters. And while losing weight can only be a positive in his situation, it’s important to remember that his best seasons in the majors came while seriously overweight.

Even if all signs are looking good going into Spring Training, the Red Sox need to find someone to back him up if things get shaky. The only other players on the current active roster with third base experience are Brock Holt, Xander Bogaerts, and Hanley Ramirez. One of them is the roving utility player who is most valuable when untethered to a singular position, one of them is the starting shortstop without a viable backup of his own, and one of them is almost certainly incapable of playing a competent third base at this point.

One potential impact option for the bench is Trevor Plouffe, recently released by the Minnesota Twins. Coming off a slight down year, Plouffe had been a steady everyday presence at the Twins’ hot corner since 2012, and he’s been largely consistent in that time. His OPS has always landed in the .701 to .756 range, and his .250/.311/.425 slash line over that time represents his skill set well. He’s not going to knock the cover off the ball, but he has 15-20 home run potential while getting on base at an average rate.

For comparison’s sake, Sandoval’s slash line is .271/.324/.409 from 2012 to 2016, practically identical offensive production. And that’s where the most important aspect of a Plouffe addition lies. He gives Sandoval a competitor for the starting job.

"“My career had fallen into an abyss because I was so complacent with things that I had already accomplished,” Sandoval admitted to in an interview. “I did not work hard in order to achieve more and to remain at the level of the player that I am and that I can be.”"

Sandoval is not a player who is self-motivated; he’s not going to go out of his way to thrive unless he is pushed. Putting a player like that, who is already surrounded by countless question marks, without real competition for the third base spot is dangerous. Even if Sandoval’s self-proclaimed change of heart is legitimate, it would not be wise to allow him to waltz into Spring Training taking third base ground balls alone.

Back to Plouffe — he is a slightly below average defender at the hot corner, but by no means is he a sieve. He’s accumulated -7 defensive runs saved at third over five seasons but a +4 rating at first base. With the defensive flexibility to play both corner infield spots, he can provide both vital insurance in case of a Sandoval collapse or an injury to Mitch Moreland or Ramirez.

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The importance of a backup impact bat off the bench was apparent in the Red Sox’s 2013 World Series run. Mike Carp played that role, albeit regulated to first base and corner outfield. It would be unreasonable to expect any bench player to replicate Carp’s ridiculous .296/.362/.523 line, but it’s a role that provides tremendous flexibility when John Farrell can rest a regular and not lose offensive firepower.

It likely doesn’t take all that much to sign Plouffe, and Dombrowski will surely be concerned with dipping into the money that he just cleared trading Clay Buchholz. He understandably wants to go into 2017 with some cash flexibility to make in-season moves.

But think about the likeliest area that money would have to be spent mid-season. It’s the scenario where Sandoval isn’t getting it done at third base, and now Brock Holt has to become the regular while Marco Hernandez is called up as the utility man. No, that’s not a nightmare scenario, but there’s a lot more security and comfort with a reliable infielder like Plouffe in the fold.

Next: Boston Red Sox: Has Pablo Sandoval shrunk?

This isn’t a move about putting the team over the top, this is a move of depth. And if Panda lets this opportunity slip through his legs like countless 2015 ground balls, there has to be someone there to back him up.