The Week In Sox: March 19

It is time to move Pablo Sandoval.

There may not be a more suitable or favorable time to do so during the remainder of his contract. In fact, there probably won’t be.

There has been no sign this spring that he’s in line for the bounce-back type of year the club was hoping for.

There is no sign in his performance over the past three seasons that he should be in line for a bounce-back type of year.

That’s part of the mind-numbing awfulness of the signing — from the peak of his career in 2011, when he was valued at 6.1 wins over an average replacement player, he has been unable to even come close to replicating what is increasingly looking like a flash in the pan.

2.1 wins above replacement in 2012. 2.3 in 2013 and 3.4 in 2013. Then the whopper last season: Negative 0.9 — that’s nearly one win below an average replacement player.

The very definition of the stat puts his average WAR for that span (1.725 wins above replacement) within the bracket expected from a reserve place in the MLB. Much less what’s expected for a starter (2-plus), an all-star (5-plus) and an MVP caliber player (8-plus).

And the Red Sox shelled out more for him than they have ever paid (or ever will, as it is shaping up) their actual elites: David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia.

And that is what is wrong with the club.

Why, for all the promise we should be feeling this spring, we’re uneasy – just waiting for the bottom to fall out early.

Pablo Sandoval has to go because he is the block standing in the way of what could be a good, if not great, season.

Whatever deal Dave Dombrowski could construct would have to be a pure salary dump, with the club most likely having to shoulder a portion of the contract responsibility.

The team, or whatever team that might take him, would be on the hook for  an average of $17.3 million per season through the remainder of his deal, not including the likely $5 million buyout in the final year.

Again, for a reserve-level player.

At the moment, that reserve-level player is standing in the way of two very promising players that could both contribute at higher levels this season. He’s had a couple of big hits this past week – just enough, perhaps, to prime the fire of a deal with a team looking for a corner infielder, or maybe a designated hitter.

Travis Shaw (.419/.455/1.132 with 9 RBI)  has been having a monstrous spring, and it hasn’t gone without notice that he is getting more than his fair share of looks at third base thus far.

The Hanley Ramirez Project over at first base has a one-year shelf life before he slides into David Ortiz’s spot at DH, making way for Sam Travis. Travis, for his part, is having an even better spring — driving in 13 runs to go with a ridiculous .600/.536/1.456 slash line.

The question is, if Travis is your mostly likely candidate to step in at first, why not jump start the process this season? Use him as depth behind Ramirez, and bat Ramirez at DH when Ortiz either needs rest or gets injured. Make Shaw the starter at third moving forward, with Holt providing depth there, and Sandoval …well,  what what do you do with the Panda?

It is a philosophical quandary.

You can’t let the summation of everything that went wrong in 2015 continue to get a free pass to tank the start of 2016.

Remember, the Red Sox closed out the year in impressive fashion. It was the season-opening catastrophe (most notably the will-breaking 10-18 month of May) that tanked the season. David Ortiz is going to have a horrendous April and May. He always does.

There isn’t room for another cog in the lineup to struggle to find his way early on.

With the investment that has been made in the prime years of David Price and Craig Kimbrel … not to mention Hanley and, to a lesser degree, Rick Porcello … Boston almost can’t afford the benefit of the doubt in giving Sandoval the nod heading into the year.

And Sandoval hasn’t done anything in the past four seasons worth receiving the benefit of the doubt.

Expect Dave Dombrowski to make a move, potentially as early as within the next week.

He has to.

It will be a symbolic break with the failed practices of the past two seasons – an echo of the franchise-changing trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford (and Nick Punto) to the Dodgers in 2012.

It’s time to hit the reset button and move forward with the very promising core of youth the club has assembled.

ON THE FIELD

There are great things happening this spring. The bullpen has emerged as a strength. The outfield is beginning to look as advertised, and should be able to lay a claim to the best defensive unit in the league.

There is a potentially nasty order in the works: Betts, a healthy Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts and Ortiz, then Hanley. The lower heart to the bottom of the order then falls (at least in my projections) to Blake Swihart, Shaw, Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr.

The bench, whoever ends up on it, is outstanding – Brock Holt, Christian Vasquez, Chris Young and (if I had my druthers) Sam Travis.

The starting rotation, though, isn’t exactly taking care of all the question marks.

David Price looked better this week. And he is saying and doing all of the right things off the field. As much as I begrudge the contract, he makes the team better.

We know now that Eduardo Rodriguez won’t be available for the start of the season. Those types of injuries – and I’ve only heard a few people bring this up – tend to nag, and one wonders if it’ll be more than a simple two to three week delay to the start of his year.

Clay Buchholz doesn’t look right. He stretched out to four innings in his second appearance of the spring but gave up three runs, three hits and three walks in the process. Neither Steven Wright or Henry Owens were particularly impressive this week, so it’s tough to say if whichever one doesn’t slide into Rodriguez’s slot could possibly stake a claim to another spot if Buchholz isn’t fully ready to go. Roenis Elias, though, did impress this week. Maybe he’ll get a shot.

Joe Kelly continues to show that if he can get locked in, he can be a strong major league starter. But he has such a difficult time getting, and staying, locked in. His strong outing Saturday vs. the Cardinals helps continue to allay those concerns.

There are two full weeks of spring training left to get it figured out. Then it’ll all count.

OFF THE FIELD

It took exactly 26 hours into this year’s NCAA National Tournament for me to lose my National Champion pick — Michigan State.

Up until that move, I’d actually been enjoying a good start to the tournament. I’d missed on two picks, neither of which would have cost me past the second round. But it went quickly downhill from there.

I overvalued the Big 10 (4-3 in the first round, I picked them for 6-1 and lost my national champion and a sweet 16 pick in Purdue), and the Big 12 (2-4 in the first round, I picked them to go 5-1) and properly valued the Pac 12 (1-6 in the first round; I picked them at 2-5).

At least now I can just enjoy the rest of the tournament.

 

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