Red Sox manager John Farrell informed media members today that Travis Shaw has won the starting third base job. The move relegates Pablo Sandoval, still owed $75MM on his contract through the 2019 season, to a bench role.
While the Sox have openly stated all spring that roster spots will be determined by performance, it’s still eye-opening to see Sandoval go from vaunted offseason signing to backup in the span of just one year. Sandoval struggled badly in his first season in Boston, hitting just .245/.292/.366 over 505 plate appearances and posting terrible defensive numbers (-21.9 UZR/150, minus-11 Defensive Runs Saved) at the hot corner.
Farrell noted (hat tip to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald) that Shaw’s defense clinched the decision, which makes sense given that both players hit well during Spring Training — Shaw has an .898 OPS over 58 spring PA, while Sandoval has an .848 OPS over 39 PA. Sandoval also missed some dealing with a bad back, which looks like it cost him valuable playing time.
Though Sandoval was recently scouted by the Padres, there hasn’t been much trade chatter about the veteran third baseman, which isn’t exactly surprising given his big contract and poor season. The Panda is just one of multiple payroll albatrosses on Boston’s payroll; between Sandoval, Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig, the Red Sox have almost $38MM tied up in players who aren’t expected to be everyday players (or, in Craig’s case, even in the majors). That’s not counting Hanley Ramirez, who also heavily underachieved in his first year in Boston and is owed $66MM through 2018 with another $22MM available in a vesting option for 2019. If the Red Sox were to trade Sandoval or any of these players, they would very likely have to eat more of the salary owed or take on another bad contract to facilitate a deal.
Shaw, meanwhile, is under team control through the 2021 season and has made a semi-out of nowhere ascent to a Major League starting lineup. A ninth-round draft pick in 2011, Shaw was a decently well-regarded prospect (Baseball America ranked him as the 19th best prospect in the Red Sox system prior to 2015, and 26th prior to 2014) who made a large impression in his rookie season, hitting .270/.327/.487 over his first 248 PA in the bigs. Shaw is a first baseman by trade but has appeared in 104 games at third in the minors and eight games at the position last season with the Sox.