FORT MYERS, Fla. — It seems like an easy decision. Of course Travis Shaw should start at third base for the Red Sox. He has outplayed Pablo Sandoval by a wide margin in spring training.
John Farrell would win a popularity contest by naming Shaw the starter. Every fan and even the most doggedly contrarian member of the media would applaud.
Shaw offers the Red Sox the best chance of getting off to a good start. He’s a better defensive player than Sandoval and a better hitter going back to last season.
Starting Shaw also would send a clear message to players like Rusney Castillo, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez that a big contract cannot guarantee your spot in the lineup. For a Red Sox team that has taken up residence in last place for two years, that message needs to be heard.
Only it’s not that simple.
Sandoval is signed for four more years and least $75 million. Bench him now and that contract becomes even more of a nightmare than it is already.
Red Sox officials learned last season that Sandoval responds best to positive reinforcement and needs support to succeed. That’s the reason Farrell, Dave Dombrowski, and even John Henry (who owns the Globe), defended Sandoval at the beginning of camp even though it was obvious he reported out of shape. They were trying not to lose him.
Benching him before the season starts would be an embarrassing slap in the face, perhaps one he never recovers from.
Then there is this: What do you do with him? Unless ownership is willing to release Sandoval — which seems unlikely at this point — he would be a useless player off the bench. Sandoval can’t run or field and his offensive role would be essentially to pinch-hit against righthanders.
A manager with job security would probably go with Sandoval and give him a chance to settle in. Before last year, this was a player with a career .811 OPS who never lost a playoff series. You can make a case that Sandoval’s résumé should shield him from being cast aside at the age of 29.
But Farrell doesn’t have that luxury. He needs to win right away.
It’s an interesting call.
The Sox could split the difference by keeping Sandoval the starter while playing Shaw three times a week at first, third, or even left field. Wait and see who gets hot and ride that guy.
But it would be bold to make a statement now by starting Shaw. The Red Sox changed the look of their team by acquiring David Price and Craig Kimbrel. Changing the expectations would be a nice follow-up.
A few other Red Sox thoughts and observations:
■ Sandoval was unfairly treated last week when he was falsely accused of confronting a reporter in the clubhouse. The “incident” was minor and hardly noticeable to people standing 10 feet away. A different media person — who wasn’t even in the clubhouse — mentioned it on Twitter and started the commotion.
Sandoval has been a lousy player for the Red Sox. But that doesn’t excuse false accusations.
■ When center fielder Andrew Benintendi was called up from minor league camp to play on Friday, the lineup included Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
But the player who made Benintendi feel the most welcome was Mookie Betts.
“Mookie, he came up to me, was talking to me about college,” said Benintendi, who was a star at Arkansas. “He was going to go to Tennessee in the SEC. He’s a great guy. Just a really fun experience.”
It was another example of Betts’s quiet leadership style and what a central figure he has become within the organization.
■ Not that you need another reason to respect Joe Torre, but Luis Tiant has one.
“It was Joe who called and invited me to go to Cuba,” said Tiant, who joined Major League Baseball’s travel party for the game in Havana Tuesday between the Rays and the Cuban national team. “I was honored.”
Torre, now an executive vice president with MLB, also asked Tiant to throw out a first pitch before the game Tuesday.
For Tiant, 75, this is the only the second time he has been back to Cuba since he left to go play in Mexico in 1958.
■ Sam Travis has been the talk of camp, hitting .536 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 16 games. The 22-year-old first baseman attacks the ball as if he is angry at it.
My question to him was this: How did a guy with such a savage swing pick the Twitter handle @DoctorChill6?
“It was my roommate in the minors, Danny Mars,” Travis explained. “He helped me come up with it. I’m pretty chill off the field, so it made sense.”
As for the rest of Doctor Chill’s story, he’s from the Chicago suburb of Orland Park, Ill., hit .504 as a senior in school, and was the Big 10 Freshman of the Year in 2012 at Indiana. Travis played two years with Kyle Schwarber, now with the Cubs.
The Red Sox took him in the second round of the 2014 draft and here he is.
■ Here’s a little window into how David Price goes about his business.
When the lefty was pitching in a minor league game Sunday at Fenway South, the opposing pitchers were minor leaguers using older baseballs.
When Price took the mound before each inning, the umpire handed him a new ball to use. Price then rolled the ball out to the mound so he would have to go out there and pick it up, just as he would normally do in a regular game.
“How many people would even think about that?” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “He doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Video: David Price pitching on Sunday
■ With very little fanfare, Jason Varitek has been a frequent visitor to camp and taken an active role in running drills, working with players, and learning from the coaches. He’s setting himself up to be a manager, and that time is going to come soon.
The only question is whether Varitek would want to be a bench coach before taking over his own team.
■ Wade Boggs is getting his number retired by the Red Sox in May. But he did not participate in spring training, which was the plan at one point.
■ Dombrowski’s approach to running the team is such a stylistic change from that of Ben Cherington.
Dombrowski has attended every game in spring training, sitting behind the plate with his assistants and scouts from other teams. He also has been open and candid with reporters, inviting them into his office for interviews.
That may not seem like a big deal. But until this spring, reporters had never been allowed in the offices at JetBlue.