For Travis Shaw, 2016 began much as his time in Boston had in 2015. Handed the third base job out of spring training, Shaw took full advantage, tearing through April and the first half of May, peaking on May 17h at a .973 OPS. For all the world, he seemed to have joined Jackie Bradley Jr. in carrying over his big second half into 2016, turning it from a fluke into a breakout.
Since that day, the cracks have started to show, however. Shaw finished May hitting .192/.236/.372 in his final 55 plate appearances. He meandered through June with a few big games the only bright spots in a sea of 0-for-Xs, with his monthly numbers looking little better than what he'd done in the second half of May. And after a good-not-great July briefly saw him stabilize thanks to a resurgence in power, August has thus far been his worst month yet. He has hit safely in only five games despite appearing in 14, and dating all the way back to that May 17th peak, has hit .207/.268/.368. His bat has finally fallen below league average, even taking into account his excellent start.
Unfortunately for Shaw, there's a lot to suggest that this is simply what he had coming. He was riding high in those first 40-odd games with a BABIP north of .400, and if the numbers we've seen from him since have perhaps been lower than he can expect, his season-on-a-whole is neither lucky, nor unlucky, nor terribly impressive.
The real story of Shaw, then, is one that's been told a million times before. He's that power-hitter profile--decent walk rate, quite a few strikeouts--without the ability to show that power often enough to really pull it off. That he has pretty big splits works both in his favor and against him. In his favor: he's got the good side of the split, meaning he's a very useful player when there's another side to that platoon. Against him: the fact that the Red Sox have been doing their best to keep him away from southpaws means that as a full-time starter he's actually probably even worse than his season numbers suggest.
Shaw's saving grace on the year comes from his transition to third base. Shaw is no gold-glover, don't get me wrong, but he's serviceable there, and a serviceable third baseman who can hit at all is harder to find than a serviceable first baseman who can manage the same. As a result of the move, both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs have Shaw pegged just under two wins above replacement thus far. That's not a great player, but it is a capable one. Shaw can play a role in the majors.
The question is if he can fill a role the Red Sox really need in years to come. And there the answer becomes a lot more hazy. As it stands, they're already likely to be looking for a corner infield type of bat, either to fill in directly for David Ortiz at DH, or to move Hanley Ramirez off of first base and let him take over. However you might feel the Red Sox should spend their money this offseason, they do have money to spend, and it seems a pretty common sentiment that they will move for one of the big bats available.
That leaves Yoan Moncada as something of an elephant in the room, and as with the Vazquez - Swihart - Leon situation, having choices really does make things a lot easier on the Red Sox. Here, though, it's kind of reversed. Travis Shaw is not much of a gamble. He very likely is the player we see here. Maybe another year of experience will give him what he needs to take a step forward, or maybe he'll take a step back and push Moncada into service. But as he is right now, Shaw is here to start just as long as he needs to be. Or, rather, just as long as the Red Sox need him to be. When they determine Moncada is good and ready--be it in 2016, 2017, 2018, or beyond (but, realistically, just one of those first two), he'll get the call. He'll likely share time with Shaw at first, but when he earns full starting time, it's his.
So Travis Shaw is here for now, for as long as he keeps playing reasonably, and right up until the Red Sox have a better use for the starting third base spot. Given the nature of prospects--yes, even #1 overall prospects--there's no guarantee that time actually comes. But when it does, it won't make Shaw useless. It will just make him more useful to another team than to the Red Sox. For a guy who, just over a year ago, might never have been expected to hold down a starting job for any significant period of time in the majors, that's a pretty giant step forward. Even if it's not the extraordinary leap he played at taking in those first six weeks.