Pablo Sandoval

It’s Panda or Bust at Third Base in 2016

The Red Sox thought they knew what they were getting in Pablo Sandoval.

He was the Kung-Fu Panda. A plus player with a postseason pedigree. A fan favorite who could give you 15-20 home runs and a true average in the upper .200s. He was 28 years old and already had three World Series rings, a Series MVP and two All-Star selections. Five years and $95 million seemed a bit steep, but worth it for a team with the Red Sox’s budget.

The Sox got a whole lot of Panda in 2015, but not a lot of bite. They got the worst defensive and offensive third baseman in baseball, some Instagram drama and many on-field faults that have been well documented by now (click here to relive the pain).

Spring Training is just weeks away. If you were hoping Sandoval would get traded this offseason, it seems you’re going to be disappointed. Barring a miracle, Panda will be the Red Sox’s starting third baseman in 2016.

This season may be just the second in Sandoval’s five-year pact, but it may be the most important of any year in that deal. There’s no simply hoping Sandoval will be better next season. They need him to be better. Their lineup has too many uncertainties to compensate for his .229 TAv, and their infield is already a concern with Hanley Ramirez at first base and Dustin Pedroia’s gradual breakdown.  

There’s no simply hoping Sandoval will be better next season. The Red Sox need him to be better.

But most importantly, they don’t have any other alternatives at the position.

Sure, you can plug and play super utility-man Brock Holt at third if Sandoval is in a funk, but is he your long-term solution? The last two seasons tell us that’s not the case. Overall, Holt had an impressive 2015 season, posting a .280/.349/.279 slash line and earning an All-Star selection. But those numbers are tipped favorably thanks to a first half in which he slashed .292/.379/.412. That line dipped to .265/.311/.341 in the second half, leaving him with a .256 TAv for the season. Holt didn’t play in nearly as many games in 2014, but he slashed .254/.310/.288 in August and only cracked the lineup five times in the final month of the season.

If you expect Holt to at least be an upgrade in the field, you’re wrong. Holt has a career -14.5 UZR/150 at third base. That’s only a 2.4 point improvement over Sandoval’s league-worst mark last season. Combine that with his potential for annual disappearing acts at the plate come the end of summer and you have a player who seems unfit to be an everyday third baseman.

The next best option would be rookie Deven Marrero. Marrero is a 25-year-old former first-round pick who was originally selected as a shortstop and lauded for his range, athleticism and above average arm strength. He would also be the Red Sox’s No. 9 hitter if he cracked the lineup. Marrero had an ok year in Triple-A Pawtucket last season, posting a .257 TAv and showing versatility with his glove by playing throughout the infield. That earned him several call-ups throughout the season in which he combined for 56 plate appearances, posting a .202 TAv in that span. His lack of a bat makes him more useful as a utility player next season if he makes the big-league roster, which is far from a guarantee.

Sandoval is the only proven third baseman on the Red Sox’s roster. He was a good player before last season’s massive drop-off. He’s also shown he can hit for some power with a career .164 ISO, which is a far cry from Holt’s career .093 mark. And although the Red Sox need to make the postseason for this to matter, his past success on the big stage is noteworthy.

The Red Sox don’t necessarily need him to be a $95-million man, or quite what he was in San Francisco. They simply can’t afford another year like 2015 in which they fielded one of the worst players in baseball 126 times.

Sandoval’s worst offensive season with the Giants came in 2010, his second full season in the majors. He posted a .270 TAv, but San Francisco had enough pieces to win a World Series. His worst overall season in San Fran was 2013. He posted .275 TAv, -17.5 FRAA and 0.4 WARP. A repeat of that in 2016 would probably be good enough for the Red Sox (aside from career-worst fielding numbers, of course).

Sandoval can be the guy without needing to live up to his contract. Pretty good would be enough. Decent is acceptable.

If Sandoval looks more like his 2015 self, John Farrell may have get creative. Sandoval has a career .281 TAv against righties and .209 mark against lefties, while Holt’s career TAv sits at .277 against lefties and .249 against righties. Perhaps a platoon situation would be in order. The downside with that, of course, is it limits Holt’s utility role on a team where some shakeup could be necessary.

The Red Sox may have a problem at third base. Or they may not. That all depends on what they get out of Sandoval in 2016. Given the investment they made, Panda should be the guy. But he can be the guy without needing to live up to his contract. Pretty good would be enough. Decent is acceptable. But if the Sox get a repeat of last season from Sandoval, their lineup could have a major hole and be in trouble.

Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images


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3 comments on “It’s Panda or Bust at Third Base in 2016”

Walt in Maryland

In other words, if Panda is as bad as his worst season in SF, the Sox will be significantly improved at 3B. I’ll take those odds.


Never wanted the Red Sox to sign him. Just looked like someone that would not really care once he signed his first big free agent contract. While the 3rd base market was definitely weak that year I would have much rather they went with a much cheaper platoon at 3rd for less money and years. Not sure why we didn’t make a strong effort to trade for Donaldson that off season unless Oakland was just crazy with what they were asking. Honestly if he is on pace for another negative WAR season by the end of June I think the Red Sox should put him on waivers so that they can send him down to AAA like they did to Allen Craig, doubtful anyone would claim him at that point.


You forgot Travis Shaw in this.

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