Can the Red Sox Salvage Pablo Sandoval?

When the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez for a combined $183 million last winter, I was actually excited. At the outset, those acquisitions signaled an intent on the part of ownership to spend big on marquee superstars once again, which is something I love. However, following a dismal season from the two new sluggers, it’s strange to think that Red Sox Nation was once enthralled by these enigmatic signings, who crashed and burned into the most overpaid, under-performing albatrosses in baseball.

Red Sox

Ramirez hit just .249, got on base at a .291 clip, and hit just 19 home runs in 105 injury-besmirched games. Furthermore, he was the worst fielder currently employed by a Major League team, and displayed an attitude of indifference that rankled many fans. Even with three years still remaining on his contact, Ramirez is pretty much a lost cause at this point; his lack of a defensive position coupled with a staggering loss of agility making him essentially valueless in a roster-building sense.

However, with Sandoval, I at least feel a small sense of distant optimism that he can rebound into a serviceable big league ballplayer, even though he is paid more than Ramirez and was arguably even more of a disaster in 2015. Sandoval had a .245/.292/.366 slash line this season, with 10 home runs and 47 RBI. His defensive WAR was -15.1, with the next-worst third baseman at -8.7. Such an awful performance was made worse by Sandoval’s chronic inability to manage his weight, and the scandal which saw him using Instagram during a game. Essentially, it was difficult to find a worse everyday player in all of Major League Baseball this year than the Kung Fu Panda.

So, can anything be salvaged from Sandoval, who is under contract through 2019? Well, the cynical answer would be a flat no. Yet, I feel that, if Pablo can solve some of his external problems, his performance on the field could be greatly improved. Firstly, he must maintain a decent weight, to aid agility and health. Secondly, he must get accustomed to playing in Boston for the Red Sox, which can be a great experience for superstars who deliver. Thirdly, he must return to switch-hitting, to take greater advantage of Fenway’s left field wall. And finally, he must keep a low profile, work hard, and do the job he is paid to do: play solid baseball for the Red Sox.

On the field this year, Sandoval had a 22% Line Drive rate, which was down 4% on 2014, but right in line with his career average. However, his Batting Average on Balls in Play was just .270, compared with .300 in 2014 and a career mark of .307. This may be illustrative of more aggressive shifting, but Sandoval hit the ball to the opposite field 30% of the time in 2015, which was 17th best in baseball. Accordingly, we may conclude that Pablo encountered some misfortune and that, while his general approach is fairly good, his execution of that approach is often awry, as judged by him swinging at 48.6% of balls outside the strike zone.

So, ultimately, I think that, beneath the surface, there is still plenty to work with here. If I was the Red Sox manager, I would have Sandoval commit to a new diet and work ethic; and if I was the Red Sox hitting instructor, I would have him be a little more selective at the plate to accentuate the positive of his willingness to hit the ball to all fields.

Those sound like solutions in theory, but whether Pablo Sandoval has the discipline and desire to cooperate remains to be seen. We can only hope that he wakes up to the greatness of his opportunity before it’s too late.

Who Will Play First Base for the 2016 Red Sox?

The recent departure of Mike Napoli to Texas opened up fresh questions about the Red Sox’ immediate future. While the slugger is enduring an awful 2015, with a poor .207/.307/.386 slash line through 98 games with the Red Sox, he at least figured to be in the team’s conversations for next year, despite being a free agent. However, by cutting Napoli loose, the Red Sox displayed their willingness to move on, which raises questions about the team’s first baseman in 2016 and beyond.

Red Sox

In recent times, Boston has enjoyed great continuity at first, with Napoli, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis holding down the fort for the past decade. However, such certainty at the position is no longer possible for the Red Sox, who face some difficult decisions in recruiting a new first-sacker.

Initially, the front office will likely consider all internal options at its disposal, which immediately draws attention to Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, two expensive free agent signings who have really struggled this year. Hanley’s transition to left field has been an unmitigated disaster, with the former shortstop ranked by Fangraphs’ metrics as the worst defensive player in all of baseball. Moreover, Sandoval has shown a shocking lack of range, and he is rated as the fourth-worst fielder presently playing in the Majors.

If the Red Sox are to compete moving forward, this situation just has to be rectified. Ramirez is clearly incapable of playing left field, while Sandoval is plainly awful at third. To seriously contend in 2016, Boston needs new players in those positions. That’s an irrefutable fact. Therefore, in an ideal world, either Sandoval or Ramirez would move to first base, a far less challenging position, where they wouldn’t hurt the team as much.

However, Red Sox management can be stubborn and, though it’s plainly obvious for the world to see, they likely won’t admit their mistakes in signing Hanley and Pablo. Quite incredibly, Ben Cherington has already said that he doesn’t foresee a position change for either player, which leaves Brock Holt and Travis Shaw as other organizational options for the first base gig next year. Holt’s greatest value is as a super utility guy, while Shaw doesn’t inspire much long-term confidence, despite a strong performance this season.

Thus, with a lack of strong internal candidates, Red Sox may once again be forced into the free agent market, which is always an adventure with this front office. Yet, aside from Napoli, the only available first baseman of note is Chris Davis, who is too inconsistent to be worth a large financial investment.

Red Sox

A few first basemen may be available via trade over the winter, with Joey Votto and Pedro Alvarez being the most intriguing chips, but the Red Sox have been hugely disinclined to move any of their top prospects in recent years, so that would also be an unlikely move.

Ultimately, the Red Sox should use the remainder of this desperately disappointing season to evaluate their internal candidates at first base, with Ramirez and Sandoval and Holt sharing time with Shaw. If they stumble upon some success, that’s great. But if they discover that none of those options are viable antidotes to the first base conundrum, at least Ben Cherington will know that it’s time to go shopping again this winter.

Red Sox Relying More Prospects and Inexpensive Free Agents

MLB prospects

Some fans and members of media may be surprised that the Boston Red Sox didn’t sign a big name free agent this off-season, but this isn’t anything new. If you remember last off-season, the team decided to cut its payroll by 20 million and add bargain free agents and prospects instead.

Gone are the days where the Sox spent a lot of money during free agency. General manager Ben Cherington has a blueprint where he would rather have a great environment in the clubhouse instead of signing big money players who may not fit in.

During the 2013 off-season, Cherington signed free agents Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew and Koji Uehara. All three of those players made major contributions through the season and during their World Series run.

Instead of re-signing last year’s starting catcher Jerrod Saltalamacchia, this off-season Red Sox signed the veteran A.J. Pierzynski. Not only is the move upgrade offensively and defensively, the move is only for one-year at $8.25 million.

The Red Sox have two catchers they really like in their minor league in Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez. That’s is probably the reason the team decided to add Pierzynski rather than re-signing Saltalamacchia for a multi-year contract.

The Red Sox are confident that their promising prospects like the 24-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr. and 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts can step in and start right away. There aren’t too many other teams coming off of a World Series title that would be as confident in their young prospects the way the Red Sox are in Bogaerts and Bradley.

Not only do the Red Sox have Bradley, Bogaerts and their good young catching prospects, they also have good pitching prospects as well.  You can probably find right-handers Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and left-hander Henry Owens on top of any baseball prospects list.

The Red Sox plan worked last season and there’s no reason to think the team won’t be a contender in 2014. With their young prospect and veterans, like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedoria, the team should be right back near the top of the AL East.