Everyone is comparing Travis Shaw with Pablo Sandoval this spring, especially after Boston Red Sox Manager John Farrell announced Thursday that Shaw, 25, won the starting third-base job from Sandoval, 29, despite Sandoval’s $95 million contract.

Here’s my comparison of Shaw and Sandoval and two telling offseasons:

 First, Shaw. During his 2013 season with the Portland Sea Dogs, Shaw was flailing. Admittedly trying too hard to hit home runs, Shaw got out of his rhythm and couldn’t find it again, batting .221 with 13 homers and a .736 OPS. At least he played a solid first base with an occasional game at third.

In the offseason, Shaw went to work. With his father, former major league pitcher Jeff Shaw, throwing batting practice, Travis Shaw rediscovered his disciplined approach.

“When everything is going to center and left-center, that’s how I know my swing is going pretty good and I’m pretty locked in,” Shaw said recently.

Shaw was hungry to improve and his work paid off.

 Now, for Sandoval. During his 2015 season, Sandoval batted .245 with 10 home runs and a .658 OPS. Maybe he was trying too hard to justify his hefty five-year contract. But his fielding was also atrocious, ranked the worst third baseman in the majors.

So what did Sandoval do in the offseason? In January, Farrell said Sandoval was given a playing weight goal and announced Sandoval had lost 20 pounds.

But when Sandoval reported to spring training in February, his belly was still sizable, and photos of him working out were not flattering. It was clear that Sandoval was some kind of hungry during the offseason.

Sandoval’s first conversation with the media turned out worse than the photos. Sandoval declared that 2015 was “not a disappointment. It’s baseball … you’re going to have some ups and downs.”

Spring-training games did not boost anyone’s confidence. Sandoval has made four errors in 16 games and hurt his back on one play, missing a week of games.

Sandoval returned Tuesday but the injury was the latest red flag concerning his conditioning.

Shaw got off to a hot start and while he’s cooled recently, he still put up good spring numbers – .333/.886 OPS in 20 games. Sandoval batted .244/.767 in 16 games.

Of course, spring numbers are not enough to take a job from a veteran. But Shaw also played well over 65 major league games last year (not a full season, obviously, but better than your typical one-month sample). Shaw batted .270 with 13 home runs and an .813 OPS.

Maybe that’s still not enough to prove Shaw worthy of a starting job. Remember Will Middlebrooks? He had a breakout season in 2012 (.288/.835 in 75 games) before flaming out. He’s now in Triple-A with the Milwaukee Brewers.

But who is Farrell to depend on – a hungry young player who has proven he can handle adversity or a player whose production continues to decline?

Maybe in other circumstances, Farrell would defer to the veteran and be patient. But this is the manager of a team with back-to-back last-place finishes. Farrell hardly can afford to not put out his best lineup at the start. Of Boston’s first 16 games, 13 are against division opponents.

“For right now, to start the season, we feel this is the best for our team to go with this alignment,” Farrell said Thursday in Fort Myers, Florida.

That thinking already has benched outfielder Rusney Castillo despite his $72.5 million contract, including $10.5 million this season. Utility player Brock Holt is going to left field to platoon with Chris Young. They both can hit major league pitching and Castillo cannot (which brings us to the perplexing decision to keep him on the major league roster).

Sandoval handled his benching well, saying Thursday that “if it’s the right decision to help the team win, I’m going to be happy. … I’ll be ready for everything in the season and do my job.”

But what will Sandoval’s job be? If Shaw shines, Sandoval will continue to be a well-paid backup and insurance in case of injury.

Next year, first baseman Hanley Ramirez could replace the retired David Ortiz as the designated hitter. But that doesn’t mean Shaw would go to first and Sandoval back to third. Shaw may stay at third with touted first base prospect Sam Travis possibly ready.

And unless traded, Sandoval will keep sitting, his contract lasting through 2019.

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.