Patrick McDermott/USA Today Sports

Phillies 1, Red Sox 0: Pablo Sandoval is making things difficult

Rob Bradford
June 16, 2017 - 6:23 am

Remember when Pablo Sandoval was good?

"You couldn't throw him a fastball anywhere near the plate because he would jump all over it," said one American League scout whose job was to follow the Giants, Sandoval's former team, right up through their 2014 postseason run. "And when I heard he was having trouble defensively I was shocked. He played in so he didn't have to move a lot, but he had such great hands."

And this is what another scout said when asked about Sandoval, the player he witnessed before 2015: "Probably the best bad ball hitter in the game. Very aggressive. Tough with two stikes. Below average range, but great hands defensively and a really strong arm. Pitchers said what a tough out he was because his ability to make contact out of the zone. Back then he was strong and confident. Looks like injuries and lack of at-bats have taken away some of his mojo."

Flash forward to the final out of the Red Sox' 1-0 loss to the Phillies Thursday night, and it becomes hard to remember that third baseman. (For a complete recap of the Red Sox' loss, click here.)

The problem for the Red Sox and John Farrell is that they are grasping at hope that the old Sandoval -- the one that the Red Sox committed five years, $95 million to -- is going to somehow re-emerge. That's why the manager chose not to pinch-hit for Sandoval against Philly closer Hector Neris with the game-tying run at first with two outs in the ninth inning. The one thing that was left which there was some confidence that the switch-hitter might be good at is hitting against right-haned pitching.

But after watching Sandoval wave at an 87 slider to end the game, the idea of sending out right-handed-hitting options Hanley Ramirez or Chris Young sure seemed a whole lot more appetizing.

"No. Not against a right hander, no," Farrell told reporters when asked if he entertained pinch-hitting one of the righty hitters in that situation.

Who knows how we got here, because while the the Sandoval signing is trending toward becoming one of the worst in franchise history, it should be noted that both the Padres and Giants were willing to make the same sort of financial commitment. As the aforementioned scouts relayed, this was once a player a manager wouldn't even think of replacing in a big spot against any kind of pitcher with the game on the line.

Sure, he was out of shape, and maybe some of what Sandoval offered was a mirage born from a postseason hot streak. But, still, you were talking about a 28 year old who seemingly had figured out how to manage well enough to be at least a servicable starting third baseman for a few years. 

Yet here we are, with Sandoval having played in 158 games in a Red Sox uniform, totaling 617 plate appearances. The third baseman has hit a combined .236 with a .646 OPS, with his team having gone 73-85 when he has played. During that span, he has totaled a .192 batting average and .450 OPS against lefty pitchers. And those close and late situations he made a reputation on during that '14 World Series run? That's resulted in a .196 average and .557 OPS.

So, where do the Red Sox go from here when it comes to Sandoval?

The guess is that Farrell keeps picking his spots to find out if there is anything there. The Red Sox have a few weeks to figure this out, not wanting to reach outside the organization for something that might not very well be much of an upgrade at all. (See recently DFA'd Trevor Plouffe.) If things keep going down the path we witnessed Sandoval entrenched on Thursday night, than a move has to be made. Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero can be valuable fill-ins, but they aren't most likely the hot corner solutions the Sox are ready to make a postseason run with.

And just a head's up: don't hold your breath waiting for a Mike Moustakas (18 homers, .887 OPS) acquisition. The Royals aren't going to deal the third baseman until they absolutely know winning isn't an option, and right now they are just four games out of first-place and have won five in a row. Maybe the Sox can take a flier on Chicago's Todd Frazier, who is mired in a Sandoval-esque season with a .206 batting average. He does, however, still hit home runs, as was evident the 40 he popped last season. And a righty power hitter in Fenway Park is always intriguing.

Then there is Rafael Devers. That conversation links of nicely with using the coming weeks to figure out what you have with Sandoval. By the time the final week of July rolls around, one would think Devers -- who has homers in each of his last two games and carries a .929 OPS with Double-A Portland -- would have gotten the Triple-A experience the Red Sox are seemingly mandating for the 20 year old.

For the time being, there is no way around the fact that Sandoval is making life uncomfortable for the Red Sox. It's a very expensive uneasiness the team -- and many in baseball -- may not have envisioned, but that Dave Dombrowski and Co. can't ignore much longer.

Chris Sale became just the fifth Boston pitcher to record an extra-base hit in the Red Sox' loss, joining Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Derek Lowe and Jake Peavy thanks to his leadoff double in the eighth inning. He was stranded at third base, however, after Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts failed to plate the pitcher.

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