This has been telegraphed for a couple of weeks now, but I have to admit that I didn’t think John Farrell would actually do it: Pablo Sandoval has been benched. Travis Shaw is the starting third baseman for the Boston Red Sox.
A few weeks ago Dave Dombrowski said that Farrell had a free hand to put the best players on the field, regardless of contractual status. It’s been pretty clear this spring that Shaw has been the better player, especially defensively. Sandoval’s defense was always suspect, but his conditioning, Farrell noted, has caused his range and agility to suffer even more than it had in the past. Meanwhile Shaw, though primarily a first baseman in his rookie season, was a third baseman in college and has handled the position ably this spring training.
As for offense, Shaw hit 13 homers in 65 games last year for the Sox and is a .261/.359/.445 hitter in over 500 minor league games. He started off hot this spring but is slumping of late. Sandoval is a better hitter than Shaw when he’s at his best, but whether he’s at his best is the issue here. He had a terrible year at the plate in Boston last season. This spring he is 10-for-39 with two homers.
Not that spring stats are what led to this move. This seems based on defense and approach first and, secondarily, may very well be something of an exercise in message-sending to Sandoval. The Red Sox may have signed him to a five-year, $95 million contract before last season, but that doesn’t guarantee his playing time. If this motivates him — and if Shaw doesn’t Wally Pipp him — Sandoval will either be back at third at some point or, possibly, at DH next year after David Ortiz is gone. If it doesn’t, the Sox are making it quite plain that they will walk away from a bad deal made by the previous front office administration.
In the meantime: welcome to the pine, Kung-Fu Panda.