Pondering Panda

November 19, 2014 · Posted in Hot Stove 

According to multiple reports, the signing of Pablo Sandoval is imminent. The only people excited about this are working on Yawkey Way (and Panda himself of course). The viewpoint being put forward by management is that Sandoval fits several needs: 1) a left-handed bat, 2) a third baseman, and 3) a future full-time DH when David Ortiz retires. On the surface, this reasoning actually seems quite sound. Will Middlebrooks, the incumbent “can’t miss” prospect at third base, seems more interested in spending his offseason as a wedding planner eschewing the idea of playing winter ball. The only other obvious option at third would be Mookie Betts.

It would be naive to think that Ben Cherington and his analytics obsessed minions failed to notice The Panda’s 3 consecutive seasons of declining OPS and OPS+. Not to mention his portly 5′ 11″, 245 pound frame. Pointing to his gaudy postseason numbers is specious at best. So why all the love?

The Red Sox spent a great deal of time thumping their chests after an improbable World Series championship in the 2013 offseason over their new fiscally responsible approach to long-term contracts. In overpaying Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew in short-term deals they got one magical season out of the quartet and were not on the hook long-term. This seemed like a formula for the future, then 2014 happened. It seems that they have done a 180 based on the reported discussions of 5 or 6 years with Pablo Sandoval.

One is tempted to think that with a new GM in Cherington, history could not possibly be repeating itself. The Red Sox severely overpaid Julio Lugo in 2006 at 4 years and $36 million when there didn’t seem to be another team even interested in signing him. John Lackey‘s 2009 five year $82.5 million deal could be described similarly. The 2013 mid-season signing of Stephen Drew is yet another recent example of bidding against themselves. Lackey was at least an improbable mainstay of a 2013 championship season, while Lugo was terrible from day one. Surely there are other examples of the “panic signing” strategy in recent Red Sox history, but it seems that Sandoval will be the next.

I would be remiss to ignore the fact that Sandoval is a good major league player. The problem is that he is not great. He has a three year track record of decline, and he is already morbidly obese. The Red Sox point to the fact that San Francisco is not a “hitter’s park” yet his offensive numbers were actually worse on the road. There is no doubt that he can help them fill a hole at third base for a year or two, but the Red Sox are over valuing him as a player simply because he is the “best available” in a very thin free agent market. Simply put, the case for signing him is there if it is for three years. It just doesn’t make sense beyond that.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that Sandoval will morph into a full-time DH within 3 seasons. Doesn’t this make him solely a candidate for the American League? It is impossible to believe that San Francisco would offer anything more than a 3 year deal. Have an other AL teams shown interest in Sandoval? Answer: not to anyone’s knowledge. Does it seem that the Red Sox are once again bidding against themselves? Answer: YES!

One additional consideration is that Xander Bogaerts is probably best suited to play third base. If one scours the Internet, it is impossible to find a quote from anyone not associated with the Red Sox who thinks he has the defensive attributes to be a shortstop. In two short seasons, the left side of the Red Sox infield could be manned by an overweight third baseman, and a shortstop with no range. Finally, it makes absolutely no sense to consume a roster spot with a future full-time DH who isn’t really a great hitter. Most AL teams have already abandoned the idea of a full-time DH in favor of rotating position players throughout the season. This approach is clearly warranted if you don’t have a hitter of David Ortiz’s calibre. Alas, Kung-Fu Panda is not the right guy.

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