With Pablo Sandoval appearing in Tampa Bay on Saturday and the Sox having no clear answers at third base, rumors flew that maybe, just maybe the last remaining pariah of the 2015 offseason was about to get his chance at redemption in 2016.
These rumors were quickly quelled. Sandoval wasn’t being activated, but simply checking in with the team. It was not Panda time.
While the Sox wouldn’t say Sandoval was coming off the disabled list right away, John Farrell did acknowledge that the third baseman’s quick progress through rehab could see him make an October appearance under the right circumstances:
John Farrell made a point of saying that Pablo Sandoval, who's "well ahead of schedule," could be an option in October of a need arises.— Brian MacPherson (@brianmacp) September 24, 2016
The most obvious situation which would qualify would be injuries to Travis Shaw, Brock Holt, or Aaron Hill, though at this point a continued inability to contribute at the plate could qualify. No doubt Sandoval seems highly unlikely to fix that problem given that he A) hasn’t seen major league pitching in nearly a year and B) is nearly two seasons removed from the last time he was any good at the plate. But if you’re looking at a proven zero and an unknown, it probably won’t hurt too much to take the chance on the unknown.
Obviously, the team should be placing no great hopes on Sandoval headed into both the postseason and 2017. But there is at least some room for him to prove himself in the way Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello have. With Moncada having shown he likely needs some more seasoning even into 2017, there will be opportunity for Sandoval and Shaw alike to show they have something left to give, barring offseason moves that send them elsewhere or lock the position down (of which there’d need to be more than one, given the departure of David Ortiz).
Certainly, of that 2015 trio, Sandoval was the one who gave the Red Sox the least reason to expect anything going forward. Porcello had his big second half, and Ramirez combined a big April with a pretty reasonable injury excuse after running into the wall in left field. That Sandoval eventually required surgery this year is...something, but at the end of the day the hope for him is rooted in a Lackey-like revival, hopefully complete with the physical transformation Lackey himself underwent. It’s not something the Red Sox can depend on, but with Moncada there as back-up not too far down the line, they can afford to roll the dice on not just Shaw, but also Sandoval. And if that roll comes as early as October, well, the Sox have already won 91 games with one of the least productive bunch of third baseman in baseball. They can take 11 more in October even if they end up with a completely uncertain commodity at the hot corner.