Silverman: Benched Pablo Sandoval turning into a messy situation for Red Sox
Pablo Sandoval has lost his starting third baseman’s job.
And while there’s a genuine sense of pathos for the plight of the Panda, he’s become an albatross for the Red Sox.
If only this albatross could learn to fly.
For manager John Farrell, Sandoval has turned into an offensive and defensive liability on his bench.
For president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, Sandoval represents the big bet that has yet to pay off, which may force his hand to go trade for a third baseman.
We’re not there yet, but for owner John Henry, Sandoval and the remaining $51.2 million due on his contract might start to look better spent sooner than waiting until the end of the 2019 season.
It’s a mess, a spreading one, and the Sox don’t really have the perfect mop to clean it up.
Sandoval’s not doing the Red Sox much good on or off the bench, which paints them into a corner. The Sox still hope he can play better but are understandably leery of playing him when he is performing overall so poorly (.233 on-base percentage, .345 slugging percentage, one home run, one double, two RBI, one walk, nine strikeouts in his 30 plate appearances over nine games since returning from the DL).
Playing him hurts the team too often. Sitting him is a waste of a roster spot, not to mention money. Releasing him is too extreme of an option, especially when he is relatively healthy.
This wasn’t the script that Sandoval and the Red Sox pitched in spring training when he reported with a rededicated attitude and slimmer physique.
We all fell for the pitch because frankly, everyone is — or should be — a sucker for a comeback story. But that happy ending’s not in sight for Sandoval.
For the fourth game in a row, Farrell started Sandoval on the bench last night, this time with a right-hander starting for the Philadelphia Phillies at Fenway Park. He walked as a pinch hitter for Rutledge in the ninth inning of the Sox’ 4-3 win in 12 innings, then was immediately lifted for pinch-runner Devin Marrero, who finished the game at third.
Sandoval will start, perhaps as soon as tonight when the interleague series resumes in Philadelphia against righty Jeremy Hellickson.
Maybe, maybe not.
The point is that Sandoval is no longer the starting third baseman.
It’s a position he lost at the end of spring training in 2016 to Travis Shaw, who was then traded away in the offseason. And now, Josh Rutledge is a better option to start at third than Sandoval.
“There’s no reason to believe it’s going to change,” Farrell said about his current usage of Sandoval.
Farrell later added that the team still holds out hope Sandoval can reclaim his starting job.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Farrell said. “But look at it like this. Pablo’s our guy. And it’s up to us to get the most out of him. And that’s ongoing.”
The theory that Sandoval, even from the bench, is a burden for the manager because he has not been playing consistently good defense, or certainly not any better than Rutledge or Marrero, is a reasonable one. But Farrell did not agree with it.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a burden for the manager,” Farrell said. “You know our team is who we are and we look to take advantage and make the most of who is here. So, that’s the approach taken.”
Farrell explained how he plans to use Sandoval from here on out.
“He’ll be on the field — we’ll mix and match, we’ll find spots for him,” he said. “With Rutledge in the game (last night), you’re looking at a right-handed pitcher with big reverse splits and looking to take advantage of that with a right-handed hitter. And that’s why Rutledge is there. And (Sandoval) needs to be more consistent defensively. So with Pablo, we’ve got work to do. We’ve got to find a way to kind of generate a little of momentum with him, a little bit more confidence and we’ll pick spots to get him on the field.”
On NESN’s pregame show, Dombrowski made it clear that he has no problem with Farrell’s recent lineups.
“John Farrell’s in a position, it’s always a tough situation for a manager in the sense that he has to play the club that he feels gives him the best opportunity to win that particular game and any other player coming back from an injury, no matter they’re high paid or low paid,” Dombrowski said. “It’s going to be up to Pablo to go out there and play well for us. We think he’s capable of doing that. .?.?. He’s going to have to be in a position that he plays better and that when the opportunities come, he’s in a spot to grab the position and really go out there do the job for us. And then it’s up to John to make that decision on who gives us the best opportunity to win on a day in, day out basis.”
Right now, that decision is an easy one.
It’s up to Sandoval to make it harder.
He doesn’t have all day, or all season, to make it.