(Fourth in a series examining the Red Sox roster for 2017.)
Carl Crawford signed a huge contract to play for the Red Sox before the 2011 season and was awful. Almost overnight, he appeared to lose the ability to hit, run, or field. Crawford suffered assorted injuries, made a series of unfortunate comments to the media, and was reviled by fans even after he was traded to the Dodgers.
Incredibly, Pablo Sandoval has been worse.
Crawford played 161 games in his two seasons with the Sox and compiled an 0.6 WAR. He had a .711 OPS with 14 home runs and 75 RBIs.
Sandoval has played 129 games in his first two seasons and has a negative 1.1 WAR. His OPS is .651, and he has 10 home runs and 47 RBIs.
Crawford didn’t do much to help the Sox win when he played. Sandoval has helped cause them to lose.
There is another difference between the two. While Crawford will be forever remembered as one of the worst acquisitions in team history, Sandoval could still be redeemed.
There is little choice but to give Sandoval a chance to play third base in 2017, given that he is signed for three more seasons and $58 million.
Beyond that, Sandoval is only 30 and was a productive player for the San Francisco Giants before he signed with the Red Sox. Rick Porcello and Hanley Ramirez offered proof last season that a seemingly failed Red Sox player can turn it around quickly.
Sandoval reported to spring training in poor condition last season, then had season-ending shoulder surgery in May after playing only three games.
He was rarely around the team or at Fenway Park after that. But in September, a slimmed-down Sandoval worked out with the Sox before a game at Tampa Bay.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said the team has closely monitored Sandoval’s condition and believes he will be ready for spring training. Sandoval even requested the opportunity to play winter ball.
Dombrowski and manager John Farrell are committed to giving Sandoval an opportunity. But if he cannot take hold of the job, there are ample candidates eager to take his place.
Travis Shaw beat Sandoval out of a job in spring training and was the primary starter for the first four months of the season. He lost the job in August, then gained it back, only to lose it again in September.
Through June 1, Shaw hit .295 with an .869 OPS. He had 27 extra-base hits and 35 RBIs in 53 games.
In the 92 games that followed, he hit .204 with a .625 OPS. He had 24 extra-base hits and 36 RBIs.
Shaw has 29 homers in two seasons. The 26-year-old has the lefthanded power the Sox need to balance their lineup but has been wildly inconsistent. He will go to spring training fighting for a job.
Brock Holt started 11 games at third base and was the starter for all three games in the Division Series, going 4 for 10. Farrell has said Holt’s greatest value is coming off the bench and playing multiple positions, but he could present himself as a candidate to start.
Marco Hernandez started six games at third base and handled himself well there. The 24-year-old is more of a shortstop or second baseman but adds to the depth at third.
One big question in spring training will be seeing what the Sox have in Yoan Moncada.
The 21-year-old made his major league debut in Oakland on Sept. 2 and was instantly anointed as the starting third baseman. He lived up to the hype for three games, going 4 for 10 with a double, an RBI, and three runs.
But he was 0 for 9 from there, and struck out every time. In all, he struck out 12 times in 19 at-bats. It got to the point where the Sox saved Moncada further embarrassment by leaving him on the bench.
Moncada was assigned to the Arizona Fall League in October but played only six games before suffering a thumb injury that ended his season. He was 7 of 24 and struck out 10 times.
The Red Sox promoted Moncada to Double A Portland on June 21. From there through the Arizona Fall League, he struck out in 39 percent of his at-bats. That’s a Chris Davis-like pace.
Moncada has impressive physical abilities and could well be the starting third baseman at some point in 2017. But the Sox would be wise to make sure he develops a better feel for the game before promoting him again.
Primary 2016 starter: Travis Shaw
Expected 2017 starter: Pablo Sandoval
Major league depth: Shaw, Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez
Prospects to watch: Yoan Moncada