John Farrell said that he would be quick to make changes and take advantage of the depth on the Red Sox roster this season. We might have underestimated just how quickly he planned on acting, though: while speaking to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald, Farrell more than implied that Pablo Sandoval might not even be the starting third baseman for the Red Sox on Opening Day -- if Travis Shaw looks like the better player by then, then he just might be Boston's third baseman.
The key for Farrell -- who said he's been more appreciative of the "present" after his battle with cancer -- is putting the best Red Sox roster together as soon as possible. That roster more and more looks like it could include Shaw, who has spent the bulk of his spring training time at third base, and also recently stuck around for a game with the regulars during a split squad game that saw Pablo Sandoval travel with the B-team. Farrell also went out of his way to say that it's too early to call Shaw a corner utility player, meaning he's still in the running for that job at the hot corner. A job that, to this point, was assumed to be Sandoval's.
Now, though, it sounds like it's Sandoval's to lose, which is a different thing entirely.
"(Yesterday) was a good showing for [Sandoval]," Farrell said. "He swung the bat well. There is no denying his work, the amount of work he’s putting in, the intensity in which that work is being carried about. And as he’s aware, the work has to translate to performance, for any and all of us.
"He understands this about putting the best team on the field from Day 1. And games in April are equally important to every other time of the year and it’s our job to get out of the gate with the best team on the field."
That's Farrell outright saying that Sandoval knows that, should he not be the starting third baseman on Opening Day, it's because the Sox are a better team at that moment with Shaw there instead. It would be an aggressive move by Farrell, but if Shaw is going to hit like he did in 2015, when he batted .270/.327/.487 while impressing the Sox coaches with his ability to adjust to big-league pitching, then aggressive doesn't have to mean the same thing as hasty.
2016 key for Shaw, Travis, and the Sox future
The Red Sox will likely be in a position where they need one or both of the Travii in 2017 and beyond.
Does Farrell actually mean that Sandoval could lose his job before the regular season even begins? Or is this just a tactic to get a more focused, more motivated Sandoval out there? It's not that Sandoval can outright said to be unmotivated or unfocused -- the Sox and Farrell were happy with the work he put in during the offseason, but as Farrell is mentioning publicly now, that work still needs to produce results.
Sandoval has hit better of late in spring training, and the Sox aren't going to put too much stock into the numbers from this time, anyway. If Shaw is having better at-bats, though, and is playing better defense at third, then Sandoval might indeed be in a position where he's trying to win his job back during 2016. And he very well could win it back even if he were to lose it out of the gate, as Shaw is promising, but still somewhat unproven.
Sandoval might seem like an expensive bench player should he end up spending his time there, but Shaw is only making the league minimum, anyway: it's not like the Sox or Farrell are talking about going out to acquire an expensive replacement that's going to bloat the budget. They've got Sandoval's inexpensive insurance policy right there with them in camp, and slated for the 25-man roster on Opening Day. All that's left to find out is whether Shaw is going to be sitting or playing in that first game.