Ben Cherington says that the Red Sox roster is set heading into spring training, meaning the hot stove season has come to an end for all intents and purposes. That also means we can start to look at the job Cherington has done in assembling the 2015 Red Sox as a whole without having to consider the possibility that there's still another shoe to drop. Last time, we looked at the complicated case of the starting rotation. With that behind us, let's move on to a problem that's plagued the Red Sox for much longer, but came with a much simpler solution:
After another disappointing season in 2014, the Red Sox could no longer afford to keep waiting on Will Middlebrooks. Brock Holt went on a tear for a couple months, but faded as the season went on, and while Xander Bogaerts was seemingly an option once upon a time, his slump coinciding with his move to the hot corner made it hard to imagine the Red Sox making that move permanent. No, there was little question that the Red Sox were in need of a third baseman.
If this were about the Sox getting the man they wanted, this would be an A+ the whole way. Pablo Sandoval was clearly the target heading into the offseason, and sure enough, the Kung Fu Panda is in Boston after a free agency saga that was filled almost exclusively with rumors of how much Sandoval wanted to be here.
But of course there's more to this than just hitting the target. There's opportunity cost with any free agent, and with the Red Sox paying more or less market value for Sandoval, they can't exactly be given credit for finding a big bargain. Signing Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million contract is obviously not the equivalent of agreeing to take on Mike Lowell's contract from the Marlins as part of the return for Josh Beckett.
Still, the Red Sox found the rare free agent in the early years of their prime. Sandoval's weight is a concern, but as it stands his contract will come to an end when he's barely 34. And during those years there's a good chance Sandoval will be worth every penny. At his worst, Sandoval has an above-average bat (one which Fenway should showcase rather better than AT&T Park) and a deceptively good glove at third base. At his best, even if it's been a few years since we've seen it, Sandoval is the type of player who earns MVP votes. If the Red Sox get the Sandoval of the past few years, that's a good player. If they get that player but a little bit better as he hits his prime, that's great. If they luck out and get that early-year Sandoval with MVP credentials? That's spectacular.
Ignoring the potential of any free agent to completely bust (Max Scherzer could put up a 6.00 ERA next year), the Red Sox have arguably paid for a mid-low projection of Sandoval rather than his upside, and only had to commit to his age 29-33 seasons to get him. Add in an option year as the cherry on top, and you've got a contract which, while large, is entirely reasonable for the Red Sox.
So how do we grade this? In my mind, signing the big-name free agent to a reasonable contract is very much B territory. It's no bargain, but sometimes you just have to make the obvious move. Given that getting a good defender at third base enabled the plan with the rotation, and how much the Sox needed another bat to punish right-handed pitchers, it seems fair to put Cherington's work on the high end of that spectrum.
Final Grade: B+
Also because I get to use pictures of a (man in a) giant panda (costume) wearing a Red Sox uniform now. Thanks, Mr. Cherington!