The Boston Red Sox have designated third baseman Pablo Sandoval for assignment, ending a tumultuous tenure for one of the greatest free agent busts in baseball history. Sandoval, the overweight, oft-injured former World Series MVP was a fan favorite with the endearing”Kung Fu Panda” nickname in another life, but the Red Sox never got any of what made him so popular in San Francisco. The team is willing to eat the rest of his salary (pun intended, but almost too easy to acknowledge), and were willing to make him go away without getting anything in return, which speaks to just how bad he has been. Hopefully, the Red Sox will recognize what went wrong so the do not repeat the mistakes of this signing.
The blame game is never simple when evaluating acquisitions in Major League Baseball. Ben Cherington was the GM of the Red Sox in the 2014-15 offseason, when the Sox signed Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, and traded Yoenis Cespedes in exchange for Rick Porcello. But in order to cough up that kind of money, Cherington had to have the blessing of ownership, and former team president Larry Lucchino was still in the picture at the time. Lucchino was a great baseball executive, an inevitable and deserving Hall of Famer–from overseeing the building of two beautiful modern ballparks in Baltimore and San Diego to the renovation and revitalization of Fenway Park–but his track record of meddling in Boston’s baseball operation, particularly this decade, was not a great one.
Lucchino clashed with Theo Epstein, who left the Red Sox for the Chicago Cubs in 2011, and who will go down as baseball’s greatest executive since Branch Rickey. He brought in Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona, going from the best manager in Red Sox history to maybe the worst to manage a full season. He lowballed Jon Lester in contract extension negotiations, which set off a series of events that led to a player who never wanted to leave getting traded to Oakland at the 2014 trade deadline, signing with Epstein’s Cubs that winter, and being Chicago’s go-to big game pitcher in their 2016 World Series run.
The Sandoval signing had all the markings of a Lucchino move. He was a big name, one of of the most recognizable characters on a Giants team that had won the World Series three times in five years, including in 2014. Surely, he’d be just as marketable in Boston, right? Wrong. As it turns out, past success on a west coast team in the other league combined with never being able to stay on the field, and being absolutely terrible when you do play does not make for a marketable star in Boston.
Cherington left the Red Sox in 2015 and now works for the Toronto Blue Jays. He was replaced by Dave Dombrowski, the former Detroit Tigers GM with whom he made the Porcello trade. Lucchino retired in 2015, and now runs the Pawtucket Red Sox. Dombrowski inherited the Sandoval problem, but he did not make the third base situation any better by trading Travis Shaw for Tyler Thornburg, who still has not pitched for the Red Sox.
Nobody is innocent in this mess. Sandoval himself should have a better work ethic when it comes to keeping himself in shape. I’m not usually one for body shaming, but he’s a professional athlete. His job is to play baseball, and he has been well compensated for the poor job he did in Boston. San Francisco offered him a similar contract but with weight and health clauses written into it. The Red Sox did not hold him to that, and they got the player. It’s hard to feel sorry for the Red Sox as an organization when they sign a fat guy, and then are mad that he’s fat. Same thing when you sign an ace pitcher who has never won a start in the playoffs and is prone to social media meltdowns, and then are mad when he chokes in the playoffs and loses his cool with the media, social or otherwise.
For all their success this century, this is what the Red Sox are: constantly straddling the line between competence and dysfunction, between baseball decisions and marketing decisions, between joy and despair. This is what the Red Sox have been for a hundred years. They were the first dynasty of the 20th century, then they traded a young pitcher to New York, and he became the greatest power hitter of all time. John Henry is no Harry Frazee, and he may be one of the better owners in the game today, but he has had his share of slip ups to go along with his success.
The Red Sox may have broken through and broken the Curse, but they still have the DNA of the franchise that lost Game 7 of the World Series four times in 40 years. As great as David Ortiz was, and Pedro Martinez was, and Chris Sale is, and Mookie Betts is, they are always a couple of bad signings, or a couple of terrible trades away from it all falling apart. Such is baseball. Such is life.
It’s not often that you get a baseball game in April that’s as fun and as exciting as the one played between the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox in the Windy City last night. It’s not often that you get a hockey game that goes to triple overtime, either, but on the night of April 17th, the world got both, and it was awesome.
The Sox and the Sox had split the first two games of the series, with Chicago taking the first game in near-freezing temperatures, and Boston taking the second game in 14 innings. Neither game was one you could really consider “well played” or “well pitched,” with the Red Sox walking 15 times in the 14 inning affair, but the third game had “pitcher’s duel” written all over it days in advance when the starters were announced. Jon Lester vs. Chris Sale. Two great southpaws who have been pitching really well right out of the gate. In this game, they continued to pitch really well right out of the gate.
Sale is a great young pitcher playing on a team that hasn’t been good in a few years. Last year he won the All-Star Game for the American League. Lester is a seasoned veteran with two World Series rings in a contract year. He’s shown us time and again that he’s as good as any pitcher in the game in October, but the Red Sox gave him a low-ball offer this week. He wants to be in Boston for life, but he also wants to prove he’s worth what he thinks he’s worth. So far, he’s been excellent, even if his run support hasn’t.
Through the first five innings, neither team recorded a hit, and Jon Lester did not allow a base runner. Lester threw a no-hitter for the Red Sox in 2008, and has flirted with a perfect game before, but it had always been broken up, as no-hit and perfect game attempts usually do. Lester ultimately gave up hits, and allowed a run, but he stayed in the game through the bottom of the 8th inning, which was long enough to earn a win. He had to pitch that well because Chris Sale wasn’t going to let up, either.
Sale’s no-hitter was broken up by a solo home run by Xander Bogaerts. It was Xander’s first dinger of the year, and it was a bomb. It had been an up-and-down series for the 21 year old rookie. His throwing error cost the Red Sox the first game, he reached base five times and had his first RBI of the season in the second game, and he had his first off field controversy resulting in the deletion of his Twitter account after the second game. He appears to be learning from his mistakes and not dwelling on them. Whatever problems he had were behind him with that swing. The best of the best don’t let what’s happening in their personal lives get in the way of their performance on the field. Manny Ramirez was one of the best at leaving his baggage in the clubhouse when he stepped on the field, and Miguel Cabrera is another guy who can do that really well. Bogaerts is showing us that he can be a guy like that for this team, and if he bulks up a bit, it’s not an exaggeration to say that he could very well be the next Miguel Cabrera.
The Red Sox appear to be turning things around. The pitching has been great and Bradley and Bogaerts have been only getting better.