The Red Sox and Pablo Sandoval are not in a good place. It didn't feel like they were in a good place when Sandoval was benched in favor of Travis Shaw to begin 2016, and now, with a report from Jeff Passan attaching sources to these feelings, it's even more obvious that the relationship between Sandoval and the Sox is collapsing.
Here is where things stand: Sandoval doesn't want to stay in Boston if he's not going to play every day. The Red Sox aren't going to let Sandoval play every day unless two things occur: he slims down, according to Passan, and Travis Shaw struggles. Shaw has hit .272/.333/.480 since coming to the majors and has been even better than that since taking on a full-time role at the start of last August, so this might be a "good luck with that" kind of scenario.
While there are still questions about how good Shaw's bat will ultimately be in the majors, the fact he hasn't slipped up on defense at third base -- despite being a 6-foot-4, 230-pound first baseman -- bodes well for his chances at sticking. So, there very well might be a situation brewing where the Sox need to figure out how to remove Sandoval from their roster, because there is no starting job to win back in the first place.
They've done so temporarily, as a window opened when Sandoval told Boston his shoulder was in pain. They immediately placed him on the disabled list without even having Sandoval go under a very standard MRI to check on his shoulder, and opened up a roster space for Josh Rutledge, who is about as valuable as Sandoval has been since getting to Boston -- except making exponentially less money and with fewer expectations to play. This is just a short-term solution, though: as Passan notes, maybe it will help both sides clear their heads and work through things when Sandoval comes out the other side.
That might not be how things go down, though. Sandoval is in a position where he legitimately might never get his starting job back with the Red Sox. Not only has Shaw been playing great baseball at third, but over at first base, Hanley Ramirez looks like the Hanley Ramirez the Red Sox hoped they were signing a year ago. If Sandoval's bat doesn't recover, he has zero shot at being Boston's designated hitter in 2017, and given John Farrell's already public affinity for Triple-A first baseman and prospect Sam Travis, Sandoval might not even get the opportunity even if his bat does bounce back a bit -- the Sox would then have four players for three spots, and Sandoval is certainly not in the lead for any of them at this time.
So, you can understand his frustration: Sandoval wants to play every day, but the Sox don't want him to play every day unless he both earns the opportunity and someone else falters. There is the potential for a feedback loop here, and the only way to put a stop to it could be to remove Sandoval from the equation entirely. There are two options for doing so, the first of them being a trade.
As discussed back when Sandoval was initially benched, a trade is not impossible. He's still owed $75 million minus what the Sox have paid him already for 2016, but if Boston is willing to eat a significant portion of the deal, there will be suitors. There are teams who are rebuilding who have holes, and they are in a position to take a chance on a heavily discounted Sandoval. The Padres are one such team, and even though their interest has reportedly cooled since chasing him as a free agent before 2015, they could still make a lot of sense if the Sox are footing most of the bill.
The where and for what barely matter if Sandoval is unhappy with a part-time role, as the Sox clearly feel he is unreliable in one given his state of mind -- hence their refusal to use him in spots where he would make sense combined with their tripping over themselves to place Sandoval on the disabled list. The Sox are on the hook for $75 million -- trading him could reduce their payout to around $40 million or $50 million or maybe even more than that if they plan on getting something useful back.
If they have to pay another team $50 million over the next four years just to open up a roster spot, that's still better than having to pay the whole $75 million while playing with a 24-man roster since neither party is into the idea of Sandoval on the bench anymore.
If there is somehow no trade partner out there, would it make sense to release Sandoval outright? That would leave Boston on the hook for the entirety of the remaining millions on the deal, less the league-minimum payment that whichever team signed him would be responsible for each season.
Of course, if they simply bury him on the bench, they are paying all $75 million and have themselves an unhappy and unproductive player to boot. However, as Passan says, "kicking around the possibility and actually ridding themselves of a burdensome contract are different things," so even if the Sox are considering dumping Sandoval on the free agent market, that doesn't mean they're going to do it.
Cutting Sandoval only makes sense if the relationship between the two is irreparably broken. Some time away might make it clear to the Red Sox that using Sandoval in a part-time role when it makes sense to -- as rare as those opportunities might come -- is a whole lot more productive for them than letting him rot at the end of the bench. A few weeks away and on the disabled list might allow Sandoval to realize that he needs to work even harder than he has to get back to being the player the Red Sox thought they were getting -- even if it doesn't get him back his starting job in Boston, showing he's still got it is his easiest way out of town and back to playing everyday somewhere.
Will either side see reason by the time this DL stint is over? Will both? That's a question we're in no position to answer, and neither is anyone else. If their relationship isn't just collapsing but has collapsed beyond repair, though, then an outright release could very well be on the horizon in 2016 if a trade can't get Sandoval out of town first. It would be an unfortunate end to a once-promising union, but it might end up being the only viable option for both sides.