It’s the beginning of the end of The Pablo Sandoval era in Boston.
Red Sox manager John Farrell announced Friday that Travis Shaw will be the starting third baseman when the 2016 Red Sox open the season in Cleveland on Monday.
“The more we exposed Travis to third base, the defense became a really deciding factor, determining that… in this case, you have to compare one-on-one. there’s overall better range,” Farrell said of Shaw’s defense vs. Sandoval’s. “Pablo’s well aware of this. We’re working at increasing that range, but to say that this has just strictly been a head-up competition in spring training. This is inclusive of a bigger body of work that’s not limited to camp.”
Sandoval — who went 0-for-4 against the Pirates in Bradenton Wednesday — reported stiffness in his lower back a week ago after he dove for ball trying to make a backhanded play against the Marlins. Panda is batting .244 on the spring with two home runs and six RBIs in 41 at-bats.
“We talked about it. I’m happy with the decision,” Sandoval said according to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. “They made the decision. It’s the right decision to help the team win. I’m going to be happy. I’m going to be ready on the bench, get ready for anything. I’m going to get ready during the season to do my job.”
John Farrell — or is it Dave Dombrowski behind the scenes — said the decision to start Shaw over Sandoval was not about the money.
“My focus is on the guys in the uniform, not the contract,” said Farrell according to the Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato.
Pablo Sandoval said its a difficult decision but he's happy with it because "it's the right decision to help the team win."
— Jason Mastrodonato (@JMastrodonato) March 31, 2016
The Padres must be thrilled that they’re now negotiating for a bench player and not the superstar World Series hero that Ben Cherington signed to a five-year, $95 million contract in November 2014.
The 25-year-old Shaw — who is batting .333 with a .886 OPS in Grapefruit League play — has been the star of the Red Sox camp this spring.
“It was real to me,” Shaw told WEEI.com’s John Tomase. “I think I made that kind of clear when I first got here that my goal was not to just make this team but make some decisions hard by the end of spring training. I was able to accomplish that and I feel good about the work that I put in this spring.”
The decision was a surprise to Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who has praised Shaw all spring.
“It was a surprise. I guess it was a surprise to you all, too. [Pablo] was a guy who worked extremely hard in spring training. From that standpoint, it was a surprise,” said Ortiz adding, “[Sandoval’s] hanging in there, doing things to keep working and controlling things he can control. He has no issue with Travis. He’s worked extremely hard. It is what it is.”
Farrell spoke about the quick rise of Shaw in camp a week ago.
“It’s been pretty widely known in our camp, and particularly of late that we’ve got a competition at third base between he and Pablo Sandoval,” Farrell confirmed what he’s only hinted at previously. “I think the one thing that is healthy in our camp is the competition and whether that’s to the 5-spot because of Eddie Rodriguez’s situation or certainly at third base. It brings out the best in all of us.”
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner must surely be disappointed with the decision as he was leading the charge with a Panda Push on “The Rich Eisen Show” just two weeks ago.
“He’s a three-time World Series champion,” Werner felt he needed to remind the public regarding the Panda, who is batting .265 with an .864 OPS this spring. “He had a period of adjustment last year… he has a lot to prove this year and I think once the season starts we won’t be having this conversation. I think he’s going to perform well this year.”
Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said this week that large contracts would not determine starting roles on the 2016 team.
“It’s funny, Jim Leyland would always say, ‘A player’s contract big contract would guarantee them one thing, that they had a bigger check to bring home every two weeks,” Dombrowski told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford in Florida Tuesday. “It doesn’t guarantee them anything else other than that.’ Normally, you hope there is a correlation between the two.
“I thought it was important, because I’m new here, that that was my philosophy, and our philosophy as an organization, that I had a chance to visit with [principal owner] John Henry and [chairman] Tom Werner and know they supported that. I thought it was important to do that. I think for good organizations, and clubs that are trying to win, you need to play the best guys to win.” Shaw is making just over the $500,000 MLB minimum.
The 29-year-old Sandoval has been on the hot seat since he arrived in Red Sox camp sporting a big belly for the second year in a row. Panda did not looked good in the field early on which led many fans to call for the hot-hitting Shaw at the hot corner.
Fans expected a slimmer Panda in Fort Myers after he checked in with a horrific first season in Boston, as arguably the worst fielding third baseman in the league.
Two weeks ago, Panda snapped at MassLive.com Red Sox beat reporter Christopher Smith, banging a bat on a table in the JetBlue Park clubhouse while ranting at Smith after seeing the reporter’s story about Sandoval’s declining defensive metrics.
— Jordan Heck (@JordanHeckFF) March 16, 2016
“From 2009-14, Sandoval ranked ninth out of 19 qualified third basemen in Fangraphs’ Defense metic (19.7) and 10th in Ultimate Zone Rating (8.7),” Smith wrote. “In 2015, his first season with the Boston Red Sox, his Defense metric (-15.1) and UZR (-16.9) ranked worst among all qualified third basemen. He had a Defense metric as high as 13.9 in 2011 and it was at 5.3 the year before Boston signed him.
“He also ranked the worst among qualified major league third basemen tied with Yunel Escobar for defensive runs saved (-11) in 2015. From 2009-14, Sandoval was at -1.”
Sandoval was obviously not pleased with the numbers uncovered in the report and took it out on the reporter.
Sandoval — who had been working with Red Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield every day — said recently he hadn’t lost any confidence in his defensive ability.
“I’ve been getting confident on defense,” Sandoval said. “I’m going to work hard no matter what situation, if I make an error or play good defense or play bad defense. Try to get my first step, keep it simple, [better] glove presentation. That’s what I’m looking for.”