Nick Punto? A closer making the minimum? Nick Punto? NICK PUNTO?!?
And no Yu Darvish, in case you were wondering.
Now we know why the Red Sox were ticked off the White Sox sent Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays without ever shopping him around first.
Picking up Mark Melancon from the Astros in return for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland did make sense for Boston. Lowrie may yet turn into a fine regular at second base, but his glove doesn’t quite cut it at shortstop and his injury history is truly worrisome. The Astros will play him at short for now, but they may end up putting him at third base for the long haul. Weiland profiles better as a reliever than as a starter, though he may turn into a quality setup man in time.
I’m a believer in Melancon, having had him projected for a 3.13 ERA and a 62/22 K/BB ratio in 69 innings next season. Anyone pointing to his walk rate as a reason to be nervous should take note that six of the 26 walks he issued in his 74 1/3 innings last season were intentional. Melancon will never be Jonathan Papelbon, but he should be a nice asset, particularly while he’s making the minimum these next two years.
The Punto signing, on the other hand, is pretty gruesome. Punto is a lot more likely to revert to 2010 form (.238/.313/.302) than he is to match the 2011 line (.278/.388/.421) that he acheived in limited action for St. Louis (133 at-bats). His signing makes one wonder just why the Red Sox are holding on to Mike Aviles. Aviles has some offensive ability, but if he’s not going to be trusted to backup the infield spots, there’s not much sense to keeping him around. If it’s going to be Punto, not Aviles and certainly now not Lowrie, getting the call at third base when Kevin Youkilis is banged up next season, the Red Sox will be taking a big hit at the bottom of the lineup.
But then the Red Sox are starting to get used to taking big hits.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.