Pablo Sandoval has lost the weight; now he needs to regain the third-base job.
FORT MYERS, Fla. – What Pablo Sandoval weighs might always be a source of fascination to observers of the Red Sox.
What Sandoval does on the field, however, will determine his future in Boston.
A slimmed-down Sandoval was the center of attention as he went through batting practice and met with reporters at JetBlue Park on Thursday. The reshaping of his body was more evident than it had been a spring ago, a spring when Red Sox owner John Henry announced that his bulky third baseman had a body-fat ratio of a mere 17 percent. The offseason dietary overhaul and conditioning work – work that included boxing, at the suggestion of friend Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers – appears to have done what it was supposed to do.
But the Red Sox still can’t say for sure if it will make Sandoval the player he was in San Francisco, the player to whom they gave $95 million two-plus years ago.
“We’re going to find out,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “We’re going to find out based on how he goes out and plays.”
Sandoval himself knows that losing the weight was just half the battle, if that.
“I don’t focus on the scale,” Sandoval said. “I focus on doing my job.”
And whether Sandoval even will have a job, at least a starting job, remains unclear.
The former World Series MVP reports to spring training as the favorite to start at third base for the Red Sox on Opening Day – but he was the favorite at this time a year ago, too, and wound up being benched in favor of Travis Shaw. That Brock Holt started at third base in the playoffs last October is reason enough to believe Farrell would start Holt at third base over Sandoval this season.
“He’s coming in to reclaim his position,” Farrell said. “He’s done a great job of taking the first step. That’s the body composition that he had to address. He’s done that. I think he’s put himself in a good position from just a physical standpoint to go out and compete.”
Fortunately for Sandoval, though he remains one of the team’s highest-paid players, he doesn’t have to be one of the team’s best players. He doesn’t have to hit cleanup. He doesn’t have to play a premium defensive position. He doesn’t have to be a vocal leader.
All Sandoval has to do is be the player he was in his years in San Francisco – a capable defender at third base who can compile an OPS in the vicinity of .750. All Sandoval has to do is be better than terrible.
Sandoval hit .279 with a .324 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage in his final year in San Francisco, a .739 OPS that the Red Sox hoped would improve once he got out of AT&T Park. Instead, Sandoval saw his numbers crater across the board in his first season with the Red Sox – a .245 batting average, a .292 on-base percentage, a .366 slugging percentage.
Even a return to the hitter he was in that final season in San Francisco would represent a vast improvement.
“We’re not seeking in this spring training to find something that has not been there or that he’s not capable of,” Farrell said.
“I told him that out of five or six games, I just need two good games out of him,” Hanley Ramirez said. “We’ve just got to build his confidence back.”
To Sandoval, the conditioning and strength work he’s done as part of his recovery from shoulder surgery is about more than just the upcoming season. The birth of his son last spring, he said, inspired him to want to play eight more seasons – a span that would take him through his 38th birthday. He said he wants to be able to play when his son is old enough to remember it.
To do that, however, he’ll almost certainly have to win back his job at third base with the Red Sox this season. He’ll get the opportunity, but he won’t get the job handed to him.
“We’re looking forward to Pablo being an integral part of this team despite the work that’s ahead of him,” Farrell said.
RED SOX SPRING TRAINING: The real work ahead for new-look Sandoval – The Patriot Ledger