Here’s What Red Sox Reasonably Should Expect From Pablo Sandoval In 2017

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Look good. Feel good. Play good.

Pablo Sandoval already can check two of those boxes — assuming he feels as good as he looks — with spring training beginning this week in Fort Myers, Fla. But will his offseason weight loss translate to in-game success in 2017, finally justifying the five-year, $95 million contract the Boston Red Sox gave the two-time All-Star third baseman prior to the 2015 season?

Maybe. But then again, maybe not. It depends on how you look at it.

(Once you’re done digesting that sizzling sports take, which probably left you gasping for air, allow one to explain.)

There’s a good chance Sandoval’s production never will justify the deal the Red Sox gave him in free agency, as his limitations already were obvious when he signed on the dotted line. His glove work was rather sporadic over the years, and his on-base percentage, slugging percentage, weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and isolated power (ISO) dropped in each of his final four seasons with the San Francisco Giants.

Sandoval’s 2014 campaign in the Bay Area also suggested that facing left-handers was becoming especially problematic. He hit .199 with a .563 OPS in 205 plate appearances against lefties in 2014 (versus .317 with an .824 OPS in 433 plate appearances against right-handers), and those issues carried over into 2015, when he hit .197 with a .465 OPS in 155 plate appearances against southpaws (versus .266 with a .744 OPS in 350 plate appearances against righties) in his first season in Boston, leading to a situation in which he temporarily abandoned switch-hitting before returning to the practice while preparing for 2016.

Of course, Sandoval missed most of 2016, which makes projecting his impact in 2017 nearly impossible, especially when coupled with the unpredictability that inherently accompanies his latest body transformation. The thing is, however, Sandoval doesn’t necessarily need to perform like a $95 million player at this point for the Red Sox to salvage some of their investment — and that should be where Boston’s head is at now that the organization, which otherwise is in a good place, has been exposed to Panda’s flaws.

Boston had the most explosive offense in Major League Baseball in 2016 despite terrible production from third base. The Red Sox ranked dead-last in OPS (.685) and wRC+ (78) from the position, which really was the one black hole in an otherwise unstoppable force.

The Red Sox received -0.6 WAR last season from a third base carousel that included a tiny dose of Sandoval, Travis Shaw, Aaron Hill, Josh Rutledge, Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, Yoan Moncada and Deven Marrero. Considering Sandoval posted WAR marks of 2.1, 2.3 and 3.4 in his final three seasons with the Giants after maxing out at 6.1 in 2011 and before reaching a new low at -0.9 in 2015, the Red Sox should expect some sort of improvement at the position this season with him rejoining the mix, even if the 30-year-old’s final numbers in 2017 don’t necessarily resemble those expected of a player making more than $17 million.

Acknowledging the Red Sox’s offense will need to compensate for losing one of its most productive hitters in David Ortiz this season, it’s reasonable to think Boston can survive with league-average production — maybe even slightly below-average production — from the hot corner, especially with the pitching staff looking more formidable in the wake of adding an ace in Chris Sale and a solid late-inning performer in Tyler Thornburg.

So, when it comes to Sandoval, pray for the best, prepare for the worst and expect somewhere in the middle, which probably — if we’re throwing stuff at the wall — equates to something between his final season in San Francisco and his first season in Boston.

And the middle, while an overpay in the context of Sandoval’s $95 million contract, is just fine as it relates to the Red Sox’s quest for a World Series title.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images

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