So far this offseason, the Red Sox seem to be focused on one player, and one player alone: Pablo Sandoval. According to Gordon Edes, while the Giants may be optimistic about the prospect of re-signing their third baseman, the Red Sox are "all-in" on Sandoval, and will be "making a big push" to lock him in as their first major free-agent signing of the offseason.
This shouldn't exactly come as a surprise to those who have been paying attention to the sheer volume of smoke surrounding Sandoval and the Red Sox. From day one of free agency, his name has come up more than any other in connection with Boston. Their aggressive approach in this situation may come from memories of last year, when the catching market seemed to fade away underneath them, or from a feeling that Sandoval would be inclined to return to San Francisco if not given a serious reason to go elsewhere.
That last possibility is strengthened by the aforementioned Buster Olney report about the Giants' optimism, which seems to be built around the idea that, all else being equal, Sandoval would favor a return to San Francisco over a voyage East. And here's where things get concerning. If Edes is reporting to contradict Olney, then the implication is that Boston's push will address the reasons for Sandoval to stay in San Francisco, of which Olney cites three. The first two (Sandoval liking San Francisco, and the Giants being generally willing to pay their free agents reasonable contracts) the Red Sox can do nothing about, which leaves only the third:
3. Sandoval is unquestionably liked by other teams for being a switch-hitter and for his ability to square up a ball. But if a team is going to outbid the Giants for Sandoval, in the way that the Yankees blew away the Boston Red Sox and all other teams with a $153 million offer for Jacoby Ellsbury, they're going to have to believe his production will grow during the regular season.
Take heart: the Red Sox will not be offering Pablo Sandoval $153 million. But until we've seen concrete evidence that the Giants are coming in noticeably south of the $100 million contract Sandoval seems to be after, what can "all-in" constitute if not an offer north of that nine-digit figure?
The problem being this: why Sandoval? To quote the very next line in Olney's piece:
"His numbers don't blow you away," said one assistant GM.
Panda, Panda, and more Panda
Panda, Panda, and more Panda
No, they don't. They really don't. Pablo Sandoval is a good player, but he hasn't even looked like a great one for three years now, and there's little reason to expect him to do so in 2015. That a Red Sox team that has played the free agent game so conservatively these past few years would suddenly choose to change tactics for a player of Sandoval's caliber? That just doesn't make much sense.
The hope is that the demand for Sandoval just isn't where it seems to be, and that front office personnel are acknowledging the fact that, no, he's not exactly something special provides some hope that this is actually the Red Sox attempting to snipe a mid-level market rather than going over-the-top on an already top-dollar mercenary. But until ink is dry and figures are in, that concern is certainly going to linger.
Free agency is not the place to get $100 million in value for $50 million in salary. At the end of the day, it's probably always going to come out inefficient over a large enough sample. But that doesn't make it right to pay a solid regular like one of the best in the game, and right now it's not clear that that's out of the question for Sandoval.