Hell At The Hot Corner

Let’s start off happy! Last season the Red Sox led baseball in runs scored. See? This isn’t a sad article, it’s a happy fun one! In 2015 they were fourth. Still good! 2014 was a down year as they finished 18th, but they were coming off a 2013 season that saw them finish first, and something something World Series win, so perhaps we could forgive them. Point is, the Red Sox of recent vintage haven’t been shy about scoring runs, which is both a wonderful thing and what makes the following information so odd. Over that same stretch, the Red Sox have one of the worst third base situations in baseball. I almost made it a full paragraph. I’m so sorry.

Perhaps I should be more specific though. Because, if we’re really going to get into this pig filth, we have to jump in and wallow in it. From the start of the 2013 through 2014, ’15, ’16 and up to the very minute you are reading this sentence — and before you finish reading it, I urge you to please swallow that milk you are drinking lest it end up sprayed spit-take style on your computer screen — the Boston Red Sox have received the worst production from third base of any team in baseball.

The Red Sox third base situation has been sub-putrid. It’s like when you open the fridge and see something in there you should have thrown away weeks ago, but now it’s so bad you’re actively afraid to touch it.

[drinks milk]

[spits it on screen]

I had to.

Further, they are the only team to, in FanGraphs’ estimation, achieve below replacement level production in total over the past four plus seasons. Every other team in baseball has been better, and when you consider the money and organizational effort spent on third base, well, maybe you shouldn’t. Let’s go right to summarizing. The Red Sox third base situation has been sub-putrid. It’s like when you open the fridge and see something in there you should have thrown away weeks ago, but now it’s so bad you’re actively afraid to touch it, so you just leave in there to get worse. And, really, who wants to open a refrigerator and see Pedro Ciriaco staring back at them?

I thought about posting the entire list of players who have attempted to man the hot corner for Boston since 2013, and let me assure you, it is quite the list, but instead, to save time and agita, let’s put it this way: the fifth most valuable third baseman of the 19 (!) who inhabit this list is Carlos Rivero. Not “Rivera,” no, it’s “Rivero.” And to answer your next question, no, I have no idea who he is, and I follow this team almost professionally. But! I can tell you this, in the four games Rivero played (eight PAs), he was more valuable than 14 of the 19 players on the list.

Okay, okay, Matt, we get it. The Red Sox have been bad at third base, but now Pablo Sandoval is back and he’s lost weight so we’re all good, right? Well, yes and no. Sandoval is back and yes he did lose weight, and he’s hit for some power this season, so those are good things, but no, Sandoval’s return isn’t necessarily the answer to Boston’s third base problems. Back to that list one more time because we’re four paragraphs in now and there’s no reason to hide what a jerk I am anymore. Of the 19 different third baseman Boston has played since 2013, Sandoval is last. 19th. Partly that’s a function of playing time, and that’s true, but mostly it’s a function of him being horrendous. Like bad at hitting, bad at fielding, and bad at running the bases. But that’s all in the past, so let’s go back to the here and now.

Here’s the here and now: Sandoval is injured. Also, his work this season against left handed pitchers, admittedly in a small sample of 17 PAs, is befitting his placement on the above list. But it’s not just his hitting against lefties, his defense has also been suspect. That could be because of the time he’s missed over the past few seasons, or because of the surgery he’s likely still recovering from, so maybe it’ll improve over time. His range was never the strong part of his defensive abilities, and it still isn’t, but he’s moved around fine at third so far this year from what I’ve seen. It’s been his throws that have been the problem. Errors aren’t the best way to evaluate one’s defense but he’s already made four errors in 16 games, which puts him on a pace for –

[does math]

– waaaaay too many errors this season.

So, sure, maybe Sandoval comes back off the DL and the hitting improves and he stops making bad throws and hooray happiness. There’s probably more than a bit of wishful thinking there, but after looking at his batted ball data, I’m optimistic Sandoval can hit fine, even well, on the longer half of a platoon. Problem is, he’s not shown any ability to hit left handed pitching. Maybe he will, and I wouldn’t doubt John Farrell will give him some more shots at it when he gets healthy because it’s in the Red Sox best interest that Sandoval play more often than not. The reason it’s in the Red Sox best interest is also the problem with platooning Sandoval, namely the Red Sox don’t have much depth at third base. Their two primary depth options at third, Brock Holt and Marco Hernandez, are also left handed, not to mention neither one is really a third baseman. You can see how that would be problematic. Josh Rutledge is a organizational guy, a stop-gap, but not someone you want to run out to third base more than a few times over the course of a season. Same goes for Chase d’Arnaud who Boston just picked up off waivers from the Braves. Fine guy, I’m sure, but not someone you want to count on for any long period of time.

With those guys as the only options we’re left with hoping Sandoval gets healthy soon or … what? I don’t know and honestly I don’t think the Red Sox know either. There’s nobody in Triple-A Pawtucket you’d want taking regular time at third in Boston. Like really, nobody. The only potential in-house solution is Rafael Devers, and while he’s going to be a monster (really) and projects as a guy who can stay at third long term, right now he’s 20 years old with 50 at-bats above Single-A. Team President Dave Dombrowski has shown he’s not afraid to promote guys straight from Double-A as he did with both Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada last season, so perhaps that’s a possibility later on in the year. That said, sometimes that approach works (Benintendi) and sometimes it really doesn’t (Moncada), so as good as Devers may be by 2019 or even 2018, he’s no guarantee to help the Sox in 2017.

If the Red Sox are going to fix third base this year, it’s either Pablo Sandoval improves beyond what we can reasonably expect, or more likely, we’re looking at finding a right-handed platoon partner for a healthy Sandoval. The alternative is going big and landing someone who can man the position long term, and that’s going to be expensive and costly and other words that mean expensive and costly. For example, if the Blue Jays continue to flounder perhaps Josh Donaldson becomes available. He’d fit in perfectly, but he’d cost a pretty penny (start with Devers) and I’m not sure the Jays would be willing to trade him within the division. More realistically the Red Sox are looking at someone like David Freese from the Pirates, or Mike Moustakas from the Royals (though he’s left handed also).

Looking back on the off-season, it’s a shame the Red Sox weren’t able to bring in anyone good enough to platoon with Sandoval, and competent enough to replace him when he was out of the lineup, as he figured to be at least occasionally. But they didn’t. Instead they traded from their third base depth to acquire another reliever, who, like relievers do, promptly got injured. None of this is helping the Red Sox move up a spot or two on the list, but it seems right now Dave Dombrowski has pinned Boston’s hopes on a full recovery from Sandoval or a prospect supernova turn from Devers. Beyond those (remote) possibilities, we’re looking at another season of sub-par production from third base for the Red Sox.

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