Red Sox manager John Farrell sees a healthy competition for third-base job between Pablo Panda Sandoval and Brock Holt

February 13, 2017 GMT

FORT MYERS — Alas, John Farrell may have found his Mount Everest, a challenge so extraordinary only a World Series-winning manager who has endured years of public scrutiny should be fit to handle.

David Ortiz’ departure has burdened Farrell with one of his greatest responsibilities yet: Motivate Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez while their biggest public supporter looks on from retirement.

Third base, Farrell said yesterday, “is a spot to be in competition for.”

Before suspiciously wondering why the Red Sox skipper continues to peddle the club’s reliable utility infielder, Brock Holt, and a recent Rule 5 selection, Josh Rutledge, as the only competition Sandoval supposedly is facing, one should consider the few options Farrell has to choose from when discussing this publicly.

Is he to declare Sandoval the starting third baseman after a year of inactivity, with all the player’s physical shortcomings and inability to perform just two seasons ago?


Is Farrell to announce plans for a third-base-by-committee, which allows Sandoval to play only sporadically?

Is the manager to complain that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski traded away last year’s starting third baseman and did nothing to add a more suitable, intimidating candidate worthy of stealing the job?

And what would any of those options accomplish?

Farrell has little choice but to throw kerosene on the flame beneath Sandoval and declare this an open competition, no matter how few third basemen there are in camp.

“Pablo has done a great job of getting himself in better shape, but what he does on the field and (if he) gets back to previous levels before signing here as a free agent, that’s what we’re hopeful of,” Farrell said yesterday.

Asked about motivating Sandoval the way he motivated Ramirez last year, Farrell called them “two different situations.” But there are parallels.

It is Ortiz who pushed Ramirez. The now-retired designated hitter backed Ramirez up publicly after a difficult day in the field or an 0-for-4 at the plate. Ortiz sat with him in the corner of the clubhouse for long afternoons before night games and shared his home with him during off-day picnics.

Ramirez knew Ortiz wanted him to succeed. And with the help of Farrell, Ramirez’ focus was renewed. He reported to camp at 235 pounds, a noticeable difference compared to his 2015 form, and hit 30 homers for just the second time in his career while handling first base like a veteran.


And it was Farrell who wouldn’t let Ramirez have an easy spring last year. Dombrowski did little for the cause, sending Farrell to camp with a roster that included only Holt and one other, Travis Shaw, capable of pushing Ramirez for competition. Shaw played the role well and even announced during an interview he was coming for somebody’s starting job. Farrell continued to put Shaw at first in drills and replaced Ramirez with Shaw in early spring training games.

The competition existed, but to the surprise of many, Shaw ended up stealing a different job — Sandoval’s.

But now, with Shaw traded to the Brewers, Sandoval has only Holt to compete with in a battle that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Farrell admires Holt.

“You can’t say enough good things about the guy,” he said.

On paper, there is no clear advantage between Sandoval and Holt.

Over Sandoval’s last three seasons, not counting the year he missed in 2016, he’s hit .268 with a .722 OPS. In Holt’s last three seasons, he’s hit .274 with a .716 OPS.

But Holt has never earned MVP votes like Sandoval has, first when he hit .330 in 2009 and then again when he hit .315 in 2011. The upside is in Sandoval’s favor.

The battle will come down to Farrell’s ability to get the most out of Sandoval the way he and the Red Sox got the most out of Ramirez a year ago.

“In Panda’s case, this is a different situation,” Farrell said. “There’s a lot more sense of redemption on his part, where he’s looking to make up from the previous two years. And he’s done a great job committing to the work needed physically. He’s taken the first step in doing that.”