Pablo Sandoval is at the heart of the current problems with the Boston Red Sox. Not because the Panda went on Instagram a couple nights ago during a game and drew a one-game suspension for it. Not even for his performance on the field. No, Pablo Sandoval is a problem because of what his presence in a Red Sox uniform says about general manager Ben Cherington,
Cherington is the real source of the problems for a team that opened the season as the betting favorite to win the American League pennant and instead sits with a 30-39 record staring up at the rest of the American League East, including the first-place Tampa Bay Rays who were supposed to be to strip-mined of talent to compete. Cherington’s decision to sign Sandoval in free agency this offseason is the strongest indictment of the general manager’s performance.
Over the last several years Sandoval’s offensive game has been in steady decline. In 2011, he posted numbers of a .357 on-base percentage/.552 slugging percentage, the third time in four years that had been at levels that could be considered All-Star caliber. Since that point, each number has declined in each ensuing season, hitting a .324/.415 level last year.
How did Ben Cherington respond when this declining player appeared on the open market? He gave him a five-year contract worth $95 million. Nearly twenty million a year to post numbers that are the very definition of mediocrity. So far in 2015, in spite of shifting to a park that’s dramatically better for a hitter than San Francisco’s Pac-Bell, Sandoval is at .326/.416. No one should be surprised.
In spite of what I’ve written, I like the Panda and think he brings a lot to his team. In spite of his Wednesday night transgression, which in the age of social media, is relatively minor, he’s always had a reputation as a good clubhouse guy. Solid intangibles and a noted clutch performer.
In his three postseasons, the championship runs for San Francisco in 2010, 2012 and 2014, Sandoval’s numbers are .389/.545. That includes a strong showing last October and it includes being MVP of the 2012 World Series, when he set the tone in Game 1 with three home runs of Detroit’s Justin Verlander, then at the top of his game.
So the Panda certainly has a niche in major league baseball. He’s the ideal addition to a team that has the pieces in place, but just needs a few tweaks to the roster to get over the top. The fact Ben Cherington saw the Red Sox as that sort of team is a sign of his poor performance as general manager.
The Boston Red Sox came into 2015 having finished last two of the last three seasons. The fact one of those years, 2013, resulted in a World Series title obscured that, as did a long run of success under Terry Francona, notably the 2004 and 2007 championship seasons. But the hard reality is that the Red Sox have made the playoffs exactly one time this decade—that magical year of 2013.
I understand how the media and fans can be taken in by the glittering façade of recent Red Sox success and not asked the hard questions about whether this was a franchise in serious decline. I have serious concerns about a general manager that is unable to see reality. This is not the time for Boston to be worried about getting clutch postseason performers. They need a lot more guys who can help them win games in April, May and June and it’s long past time the front office acknowledged that.
Cherington is under fire in Boston and may not survive to next season. The other issue is what to do with manager John Farrell. The skipper is like the franchise itself—he’s had one good year as a manager, in 2013, and otherwise has four flops, if you include this season (Farrell managed two disappointing years in Toronto). I’m a Red Sox fan and watch most every game on the MLB Extra Innings package, and I have no real beef with Farrell. I’d like to see him get another shot with a good GM, but I honestly couldn’t defend him if they do fire him.
What I can say for certain is that Ben Cherington has not earned the right to fire John Farrell or anyone else. If ownership wants to give the GM another chance that’s one thing. But it’s quite another to let him fire a manager, when it’s the front office that’s primarily responsible for what’s been a debacle thus far. No GM decision captures that better than the decision to sign Pablo Sandoval.