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Sox Week: It’s time for Boston to make a decision on Sandoval

  • Oregon State pitcher Jake Thompson (44) works against Cal State Fullerton during the first inning of an NCAA mens College World Series baseball game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, June 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) Nati Harnik

  • Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval has had his fair share of issues since he signed a $95 million contract with Boston in 2015. As the negatives keep adding up for Sandoval, it’s time for the Sox to think about moving on. AP file



Monitor staff
Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Boston Red Sox are one game out of first place in the AL East. As the teams in baseball’s most confusing division have started to trip over themselves and one another, Boston has quietly taken advantage – building a four-game lead for second place. Yet, even as things start to click for a team with such great potential, it’s still hard to ignore the gaping hole at third base, and the 95-million-dollar investment that’s supposed to be filling it.

Every time Pablo Sandoval has an opportunity to prove himself, and he’s been given plenty by the Sox during the past two years, he just can’t come through.

His three-pitch strikeout with the game on the line in Philadelphia on Thursday was Sandoval’s latest failure to seize the moment. Should he (a .208 hitter who has played in 29 games) have even been at the plate with two outs in a one-run game at all? No, probably not. But that’s another issue entirely.

Phillies closer Hector Nerris certainly read the scouting report on Sandoval and delivered him three straight splitters (two of which were out of the zone.) Swing and miss, swing and miss, swing and miss. Game over.

With a victory, the Red Sox would’ve completed a much-needed sweep of the league’s worst team and gone into a three-game series against the league’s best team (Houston) feeling pretty good.

Break-ups are tough, but it’s time the Red Sox do just that. Eating millions of dollars on a deal that was supposed to go through 2020 is going to hurt. But Sandoval is a liability in the field and a less-than-serviceable bat that you can only use against right-handed pitchers. Why wouldn’t the Sox dump him?

Boston has plenty of choices behind Sandoval at third – Josh Rutledge, Deven Marrero and even top prospect Rafael Devers.

Rutledge may be a 28-year-old utility guy, and Marrero may be a career .176 hitter, but both are better options than Sandoval right now.

Sandoval has committed five errors in 26 games at third and his WAR is a career-low minus-0.9. Over 33 games between second and third base, Marrero has committed just two errors. Rutledge has three errors over 34 games at three different positions.

Neither of Sandoval’s possible replacements are going to win any Silver Slugger awards, but you have a little more flexibility with a guy like Rutledge (.258 BA vs. RHP, .211 vs. LHP) than you have with Sandoval (.224 vs. RHP, .150 vs. LHP).

The biggest number working in Sandoval’s favor? The $51.5 million he’s still owed by the team. As the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman pointed out earlier this week, it seems extreme to release Sandoval when it comes with that expense, but the other choices aren’t much better.

“Playing him hurts the team too often. Sitting him is a waste of a roster spot, not to mention money. Releasing him is too extreme of an option,” Silverman wrote. “This wasn’t the script that Sandoval and the Red Sox pitched in spring training when he reported with a rededicated attitude and slimmer physique. … But that happy ending’s not in sight for Sandoval.”

If the ending isn’t going to be happy, and Sandoval has shown us over and over again that’s probably going to be the case, that ending should come sooner rather than later.

It’s time to cut the chord and time for this team to establish itself and find its footing before the second half of the season, which is quickly approaching.

Even with a five-game losing streak, the New York Yankees are no joke and it’s still far too early to dismiss the Toronto Blue Jays or the Baltimore Orioles. Any of these teams – stocked with All-Star caliber talent – can turn things around and make a run.

Boston needs to be strong enough to withstand all of that. Rotating players at the hot corner is not going to make that any easier.

One way or another, it’s time for the Red Sox to make a decision on what they’re going to do at third base.

Thompson roughed up

Oregon State pitcher Jake Thompson, three days removed from being drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round, had a rough College World Series opener Saturday against Cal State Fullerton.

Thompson entered the contest at 14-0 for the Beavers, who are the No. 1 national seed after a 54-4 run to get to Omaha, Neb., for college baseball’s main event. But Cal State’s Timmy Richards hit a three-run shot off Thompson in the first inning Saturday and he gave up a total of five earned runs and three walks in his short, 3.2-inning appearance.

Thompson may get the chance to redeem himself in Omaha, though, after his team rallied for a 6-5 win over Cal State to move on in the winner’s bracket.

Thompson, a 6-foot-6 righty, used a mix of four pitches, including a an effective secondary slider, to post a 1.52 ERA over 118.1 innings pitched during the regular season. In 17 starts, he struck out 113 batters and walked 36 and opposing teams hit a miniscule .184 against him.

One bad start on a pretty big stage certainly shouldn’t take away from the excitement surrounding Thompson. The 22-year-old was rated in the top 100 by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline prior to the draft, yet was still on the board when pick No. 131 rolled around Tuesday.

He was drafted out of high school by the Cubs in 2013 because of his arm strength, according to OverTheMonster.com, and he’s reportedly topped out his fastball at 98 mph. And scouts say his secondary pitches are only getting better.

The Red Sox are making good headway on restocking a slightly depleted farm system with talented and exciting pitchers after trading a few top prospects away to acquire Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz.

Between Thompson, 2016 first-round pick Jay Groome, this year’s first-rounder Tanner Houck and fifth-rounder Alex Scherff, the future of Boston’s minor-league core is looking bright again.

(Michelle Berthiaume can be reached at 369-3338, mberthiaume@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MonitorMichelle.)