To the surprise of almost no one, the 2016 Boston Red Sox will most likely have one of the five highest payrolls in all of major league baseball.
That in and of itself is not major problem. Teams with high payrolls don’t always win, but they don’t always lose either.
Here’s what is a problem.
Pablo Sandoval: back-up third baseman- $17.6 million in 2016 and four-years, $77.4 million remaining on his contract.
Rusney Castillo: reserve outfielder- $11.271 million in 2016, and at a minimum three-years, $34.313 remaining on his contract
Rick Porcello: No.3 or No. 4 starting pitcher- $20.125 million in 2016, and four-years, $82.5 million remaining on his contract.
Allen Craig: AAA first baseman- $9 million in 2016, two years, $21 million remaining on his contract.
Add it all up and that’s about $58 million being spent just this year on a combination of backup players, one thus far at-best mediocre starting pitcher and a triple-A first baseman or outfielder.
If you’re the type of person who thinks bargains are pretty cool, there’s nothing remotely cool about the Red Sox payroll obligations listed above.
Can the Red Sox field a winning team with these payroll obligations? That remains to be seen, and there is a very real possibility that yes, the 2016 Red Sox could be a pretty good baseball team even with the absurd amount of money being spent on the four players listed above.
Yet even in the world of major league baseball, a world where a $200 million contract is thought of as likely as opposed to absurd, $58 million is still a significant amount of money.
There will be no shortage of hand wringing and quite frankly, it is well-deserved.
One could go over an endless list of scenarios under which the money would or could be better spent.
Fans should be happy that the team hasn’t (as of now) decided that a player with a high salary is somehow entitled to playing time.
With less than a week until opening day, the payroll, especially the amount of money that appears likely to be squandered on the payroll is a big deal.
Yet when the Red Sox take the field next week with Brock Holt playing left field instead of Rusney Castillo , and Travis Shaw at third base instead of Pablo Sandoval, and Allen Craig in Pawtucket, the goal will be identical to what the goal would be if all those roles were changed.
The wasted money doesn’t have to be an issue next week, but it could become a legitimate concern by late spring and into the summer.
If the Red Sox find themselves competing for the AL East crown and/or a playoff spot, odds are they won’t be running away from the pack.
The Red Sox, just like most playoff contenders will have some weaknesses and there’s no time better than the months of June and July to make trades that can turn a contender into a legitimate threat to win the World Series.
So can the Red Sox expect to be able to trade Pablo Sandoval?
It won’t be easy. Teams that are hesitant to take on payroll are going to be even more hesitant to absorb a player that can’t crack the starting nine, and has a high salary.
With regards to Sandoval there’s going to be some very legitimate questions about how he fits onto a major league roster.
Is he a third baseman? Any google search would suggest he is, but in reality he just got beat out at that position by a relatively unknown player, and he was beaten out not because of his bat, but because of his lack of range at the position.
No matter what one thinks of Travis Shaw, we can probably all agree that he’s not going to be drawing any Manny Machado comparisons in the near future. Sandoval didn’t get beat out by a future gold glove winner, he got beat out by a solid, but at this point not spectacular, inexperienced player.
At this point Sandoval’s ability to play third is a legitimate question. Can Sandoval play another position? No one knows for sure, the answer is probably “yes,” and that position is most likely first base. Even there his height (or lack of it) will be seen as a negative.
At 5’11” Sandoval would be one of the shorter first basemen. That might not seem too important, but it does become a factor when a first baseman is required to reach above his head to field a high throw from across the diamond, or stop a high line drive off the bat of an opposing hitter.
Hanley Ramriez is 6’2″, Travis Shaw is 6’4″, former Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli stands 6’1″. Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees is 6’3.” Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles stands at 6’3″. The point is that Sadoval’s height certainly won’t be a selling point when it comes to a positional shift across the diamond.
Sandoval could always slide into the role of designated hitter, but the whole “hitter” aspect is going to be an issue.
Sandoval has only two seasons in which he’s hit more than 20 home runs and it hasn’t happened since 2011. He’s not a bad hitter (although he was in 2015) but he’s not what teams envision when they’ve got an extra spot in the batting order for a guy who is expected to do nothing more than hit the baseball.
Applauding the Red Sox decision to bench Sandoval in lieu of Shaw feels like the right thing to do. Shaw did earn his spot, he’s the underdog, and Sandoval didn’t do himself any favors as far as endearing himself to the fans or his teammates this spring.
Shaw could lose the starting job due to injury, or subpar play. Maybe Sandoval rises to the occasion and reclaims his former starting job?
If Shaw lives up to his hype and becomes a solid starting third baseman, that would relegate Sandoval to a yet-to-be-determined role on the Red Sox bench. It will also make getting Sandoval off the Red Sox roster nearly impossible.
Short of paying another team to basically accept Sandoval in a trade, the Red Sox options are few and far between.