I did not think he would do it.
I never thought for one moment this spring that Red Sox manager John Farrell would start Travis Shaw over the $95 million Panda at third base.
But he proved me wrong. And in doing so he sent a message to his players, the owners, and the front office that if he is going down, he is going down on his terms (unless it’s Dave Dombrowski who’s really pulling the strings).
It was only a month ago when principal owner John Henry told the media how hard Pablo Sandoval worked all winter on his agility and he was down to 17 percent body fat. Henry at the time was trying to protect the big investment on his rather large third baseman.
During the course of spring training, Sandoval has been awful in the field, and not much better at the plate hitting .244 this spring with a .767 OPS.
Shaw on the other hand has played much better in the field and has hit .333 with a .886 OPS.
Now in most cases, the starting nod would go to the veteran making $17 million this year than the young player making the minimum with only 226 major league at-bats.
But this is not most cases. The Red Sox have finished in last place in two straight seasons. Henry ignited what was already a hot seat for Farrell when he said he expected the team to get off to a good start. There is no margin of error for the manager.
Sandoval thumbed his nose at the manager and the entire organization when he came into camp looking more like Orca the Killer Whale than a player who was motivated to put a horrendous year behind him. And team president Dave Dombrowski told WEEI’s Rob Bradford that size of a player’s contract will not determine playing time. That empowered Farrell to bench Sandoval Friday and Rusney Castillo earlier this week.
That’s a combined $28 million of John Henry’s money riding the pine.
This is a stunning move as Farrell learned at the feet of Terry Francona who when he managed here. Tito would always give the veteran players the benefit of the doubt and would stay with a slumping veteran and never criticize him in public.
But Farrell knows the reality of his situation. Win or go home. Today, he sent a message to his team about the urgency of getting off to a good start and he will play the players he feels will help him achieve that goal. Even if that means benching someone of the stature of Sandoval.