Travis Shaw came up for good last August, posting a .270/.327/.487 line with 13 home runs and 36 RBIs in 65 games. He was one of the bright spots for the Boston Red Sox as they struggled through another injury-plagued, last-place finish. In his rookie year, Shaw flashed power, showed an ability to draw a walk, and played solid first-base defense. He has picked up right where he left off, tearing up the Grapefruit League to the tune of a .474/.500/.737 line in 38 at-bats.
Jake Fox would be proud.
For the Red Sox, Shaw’s Florida outburst is a gift and a curse. He is further cementing his status as a big-league starter. Primarily a first baseman with the Red Sox last season, Shaw has shifted across the diamond to third base this spring, starting nine games at the hot corner. Having played just under 1,000 innings at the position in the minor leagues, third base is not an entirely foreign concept to Shaw. He has played 59.0 innings of third base to date in spring training, and has handled 22 chances without an error.
That Shaw is tearing the cover off the ball and playing flawless defense is a gift — one that most franchises would be happy to unwrap. Last season’s second-half darling shows up to camp and proves he is worthy of a starting job; what else could be better? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for the Red Sox.
Pablo Sandoval, generously listed at 255 pounds, complicates things for the Red Sox. In the first year of his five-year contract, the former World Series hero showed up to camp massively out of shape. The Red Sox coddled him, as you must to get anything out of the mercurial Sandoval. Boston was rewarded with a .245/.292/.366 line. It was easily the worst season of Sandoval’s eight-year career. Things were so bad that the switch-hitter spent the final months of the year batting exclusively from the left side.
Sandoval showed up to camp, belly bigger than ever, and promptly set about lowering expectations. He has already committed four errors in only 17 chances at third base. His .765 fielding percentage will be impossibly hard to sustain over the course of a full season. If there are any positives to be found with Sandoval so far this spring, the Red Sox can at least take solace in the fact that he is slugging .613 with two home runs.
The Red Sox have a difficult decision on their hands with Shaw and Sandoval. Last year’s big free-agent addition is under contract for this season and three more. He may be useless in the field, but Sandoval becomes even more useless on the bench. He cannot play the field and is almost an automatic out against left-handed pitching. What’s more, if shunted off to the bench, Sandoval may completely check out on the Red Sox. Watch out, ladies of Instagram.
Travis Shaw has earned a starting role with the Red Sox, but in all likelihood, he will have to wait until next year to claim it. Boston is in a precarious situation trying to massage and manage the egos of Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Shaw proved to be a better defender than both last season, and at this point may surpass both on offense. Between them, however, Ramirez and Sandoval signed for $183 million. For his part, Ramirez has showed up to camp ready and willing to work hard at first base. No matter how rich the franchise, that is the type of money that talks. Ramirez and Sandoval will not surrender their starting jobs to Travis Shaw unless they fall spectacularly flat.
Shaw will get his chances to play this season, taking starts and at-bats from Sandoval and Ramirez a few times a week. Left field is another position where he could find playing time. Things will clear up for Shaw and the Red Sox next year, when David Ortiz retires and creates room at DH. Until then, Pablo Sandoval will have to fend off constant calls for his job at third base. As the new front office takes control, and John Farrell fights to stay off the hot seat, the Red Sox still have many questions to answer as they look to climb out of last place.
Travis Shaw appears to be the answer to at least one question, but that only further complicates things in Boston.