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The Weight of a Contract: Pablo Sandoval

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I am a Rays fan so the next thing I’m about to say is not easy but here goes; I respect the Red Sox and their manager John Ferrell.  There I said it.  A team that I typically don’t commend for their decision making skills finally made did something right; they decided to bench Pablo Sandoval for Travis Shaw.  

Why am am impressed with this decision you ask? Money.  It all comes down to how much each player gets paid to play.  A team like the Red Sox has a history of buying talent and that is how they got Sandoval .  In 2014 he was signed as a free agent for 5 years $95 million and a 6 year option.  On the other end of the spectrum, Travis Shaw signed a one year contract in 2015 for $515,000 which is just above league minimum.  Most teams would opt to play the player they bought regardless of performance since it would be assumed that any “funk” they were in involving play would be overcome in time, but in this case the Red Sox didn’t see the issue getting better, so they took a stand and sat Sandoval.

The issue is heavy and it lies mainly around Sandoval’s middle; his weight.  As his salary grew, so did his waistline.  USA Today reported that one of the reasons Sandoval did not want to resign with the Giants in 2015 was because he knew there would be a weight clause in his contract.  Additionally, the Giants only wanted to offer him 3 years $40 million when he was looking for 5 years and around $90 million.  At the time of his signing with the Red Sox, they did not seem concerned about Sandoval’s weight but at the end of his first season and him turning out the worst numbers in his career it became an issue.

The Red Sox are the only team to have encountered a high priced player performing below par.  One name that comes to mind when I think of big contracts with low yields it’s former Tampa Bay Rays centerfielder Melvin “BJ” Upton.  The Braves signed him for 5 years $75 million.  For that kind of money any team would assume that Upton would be entered into the lineup and be able to perform; not so much.

The Braves signed Upton after the best season of his career.  He finished 2012 as a Tampa Bay Ray with a batting average of .246, 78 RBIs, and a career high 28 home runs.  Upton’s first year with the Braves he produced only a fraction of that; batting .184, 26 RBIs, and only 9 home runs.  The Braves were at a loss on what to do.  At one point, they even had Upton wearing glasses when he batted in order for him to “see the ball better”.  They dabbled with playing Evan Gattis (a catcher by trade) in left field but Upton still got a made a majority of the starts in 2013 and 2014.  

Ultimately, Upton’s shortcomings did not affect the Braves very much.  In 2013 the were first in their division but lost the Division Series and they were 2nd in 2014. That leads one to wonder how good the Braves would have been if they chose to sit Upton in favor of Gattis or another lower paid player that was performing better offensively? I guess we will never know.  

The Braves made the decision to play Upton even though he was obviously struggling.  The only solution they found viable was a trade because there seemed to be no salvaging their investment.  Upton may not have hurt the Braves too much, but he certainly didn’t help them win.

The slight irony in the parallel I’m creating is that the Braves traded Upton to the San Diego Padres and they is the very team that is somewhat interested in taking on Sandoval if the Red Sox decide to trade him.  

Currently Sandoval is on the 15 day DL with a left shoulder strain.  The cause of the injury is still unknow.  ESPN reported manager John Farrell stated that Sandoval had been doing extra batting practice on the field and in the cage, so that is likely the cause but he can not be sure.  Farrell has also said that despite the heavy criticism that surrounds Sandoval he still supports him and believes that he will be a contributor to the team.  Does that mean he is safe from being traded? I’m not so sure.  

What am I sure about? I’m sure that Travis Shaw has a place on the Red Sox.  He has been nothing short of impressive.  Shaw has a .333 BA and is tied with Michael Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals and Todd Frazier of the Chicago White Sox for a 3rd place rank among all major league third baseman in defensive runs saved.  Right now he seems to be the total package and if he stays on this path there is no place for Sandoval.  

Pablo Sandoval’s future with the Red Sox is not clear.  Regardless of his contract, he must address his physical condition in order to be a viable option on the field or at the plate.  All employees get performance feedback.  They can choose to implement it and keep the boss happy or choose to ignore it and face the consequences.  We will have to wait and see which one Sandoval chooses and if it fits the Red Sox plan, or if not will they checkmate.

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