While the Red Sox have generally been good this season and would squarely be in the postseason if the playoffs started today, 2017 has had many frustrating elements. The lack of power has been tough to watch, as has some stretches of poor offense in general. Both the rotation and the bullpen have been home to inconsistent pitching. Key players on both sides of the ball have undergone frustrating slumps. Again, the overall performance has been good, but it’s hard to deny the frustration. And nothing has come close to the frustrating element that has been provided by the team’s third basemen.
Although he’s not the only player who has spent time at the position this season, the third base issues begin and end with Pablo Sandoval. This has been a problem position for the Red Sox for years now, and he was the big-money name to fix it. Obviously, that hasn’t happened and it’s leading to another poor season from the hot corner. Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero, among others, have gotten playing time too, but that’s only because Sandoval’s health and performance put them in that position. The Red Sox don’t have a lot of options right now.
Before we get into what the Red Sox can do about Sandoval, let’s just take a quick look at the struggles of Boston’s third baseman. And I do mean quick, because it is truly depressing. In his first 97 plate appearances, the former Giant is hitting .211/..258/.367 for a 59 wRC+. In other words, he’s been 41 percent worse than the league-average hitter. On the other end of things, his defense has been horrendous. He’s making errors seemingly at least once a game while also failing to make even the most marginally difficult plays. He’s essentially unplayable in the field right now.
So, the Red Sox need to figure out where they go from here with their expensive, unplayable third baseman. As one would probably expect, there aren’t any good solutions to this problem.
The first possible solution is simply to stick it out. This involves continuing to give Sandoval the bulk of the playing time despite his struggles, hoping he turns it around. Between him, Rutledge and Marrero, he has the most upside, even if it seems impossible that he reaches it. To be fair, he is hitting the ball with more authority this year than he has in previous seasons with the Red Sox and is being hampered by a .231 batting average on balls in play. That doesn’t mention his rising strikeout rate, though. Boston stands to benefit greatly from a possible turnaround from Sandoval, however improbable it may be. It is the ideal scenario for the Red Sox, as they’d be able to hold off on any drastic plans if Sandoval can turn into even a fraction of the player he was in San Francisco. It’s up to them as to whether or not the chances of a turnaround are large enough to go with this plan.
Option number two is to essentially go through with what they are doing now. That is to say, they can simply bench him and use him a pinch hitter when necessary. This is not an ideal scenario, because you obviously don’t like to have that much money tied up to a bench player. However, the most important thing is to put the best team on the field every night, and there’s undoubtedly an argument to say that the best Red Sox team has Sandoval on the bench. The pros of this solution revolve mostly around the defense. As I said above, Sandoval is essentially unplayable in the field, and while Rutledge isn’t a Gold Glover he is much more dependable. Then there’s Marrero, who has been extremely steady with the glove. The biggest con is that the offensive upside is significantly lower with the two replacements than it is with Sandoval. Of course, as I said above, the chances of him hitting that upside seem miniscule. It’s worth noting that this solution doesn’t necessarily come into play now, but it could down the road when the Red Sox make a trade for a third baseman and/or call up Rafael Devers.
Behind door number three is to designate Sandoval for assignment. This is among the more popular options, although some may not have the full picture. On the one hand, the Red Sox would be able to simply wash their hands of the Sandoval situation. Everyone wants that. However, they would not be able to go down the same road with which they went with Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig. They were able to outright both of them to Triple-A and take their salaries off the books for luxury tax purposes. Sandoval has too much service time for the Red Sox to be able to do that with him. Instead, they’ll simply have to eat the money. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth it, but it certainly adds a wrinkle to the equation.
Finally, the Red Sox can just trade him. This is, far and away, the most popular option for Boston and the one I hear suggested the most. Of course, it’s also the most difficult. Basically, it’s like the scene where Happy Gilmore decides holes in one are much easier than the alternative. The Red Sox should just decide trading away their problems is always easier. Basically, it feels as though people have been spoiled by the Nick Punto trade of 2012. Those kind of deals are extremely rare, and the Red Sox don’t quite have an Adrian Gonzalez to include in the deal to facilitate it. Instead, if they really want to rid themselves of Sandoval, they’ll almost certainly have to include a valuable young asset along with him. For as cathartic as ridding themselves of the third baseman’s contract would be, there’s no guarantee it’d be worth it. After the Punto deal, I will never say never to this kind of thing, but I’m not holding my breath for any sort of trade.
Like I said before, the Red Sox have no easy solution to their Pablo Sandoval problem. After going through the most obvious options....I still have no idea what they should do. Every option has its merits, but they all have significant problems. What do you think they should do?