Ah, ‘tis the season. Red Sox Spring Training. There’s always a storyline to keep a close eye on with this team once February rolls around. It used to be whether or not Manny would actually show up, or maybe the health of the starting rotation. Now, it’s all about Pablo Sandoval, and primarily Pablo Sandoval. Is he fat? What’s his swing look like, coming off of shoulder surgery? Does he look like he cares? Is he even there?
Well, for starters, Sandoval arrived in Fort Myers eight days early, and he most definitely looks slimmer. He’s received praise from a few of his teammates, as well as from his coaches and the front office. He took a couple of hacks during batting practice, and his shoulder looks to be in tip-top shape. Sandoval was walking around and laughing with his teammates, having a grand old time before the swarms of media and fans arrive.
This is most certainly an upgrade from last year. In 2016, Sandoval arrived only two days early, infamously out of shape, and nobody had anything good to say about him. He struggled during drills and, at times, looked miserable. He was criticized endlessly by the media and fans, and still gets backlash to this day because of it, and rightfully so. He ended up losing his starting third baseman job and needed shoulder surgery in early April, so it’s been awhile since we’ve seen much of him.
The improvement out of Sandoval already is awesome to see, no doubt about it. All the props to him. But, he still has to win back his teammates, coaches and all of the fans worldwide. He had a chance to win back a good amount of Red Sox fans by attending this year’s Winter Weekend, the Red Sox’ fan fest, but bailed out at the last minute due to a ‘cold’. Not a great look, considering he even came out and said a couple of months ago that it was a main goal of his to win the fans back. On his Instagram, he posted a ton about the Patriots’ playoff games and wishing the team luck, but it was painfully obvious that it was just his social media team making the posts. Again, not a great look.
Speaking of social media, Sandoval has been posting nonstop on his Instagram story, mainly of his workouts. I think it was a way to show the fans that he is losing weight and wants to prove to all of us that he really is trying, but it got beyond annoying after a while. I love seeing transformations like these as much as the next person, but we get it.
The most important thing that Pablo has to do in the coming months is prove to everyone that he can in fact produce in the batter’s box and isn’t a disaster in the hot corner. Just because he lost a ton of weight doesn’t mean that he’s automatically a better all-around baseball player. Post whatever you want on your story and even come to Spring Training looking great, but that’s just the first step in winning all of us back. Sandoval wasn’t necessarily in the best shape of his life when he won three rings over in San Francisco, so who knows what the near and far future holds.
As a Red Sox fan, you want to hate him, but you can’t. This phrase has been used a lot over the last couple of months, but it’s fitting: wishing for him to fail is like asking the pilot of the plane you’re flying on to fatally crash the plane into the depths of the Atlantic. It’s Pablo Sandoval or bust, and it hurts to write that. It’s hard to root for this guy, it really is, but at least he’s actually trying hard to be a better version of himself.
Sandoval has essentially no competition for the third base job; it was literally handed to him once the Red Sox traded away Travis Shaw and then Yoan Moncada over a span of three hours. That means that him having the ultimate bounce-back season is critical to this team’s success going forward. He has to do something to show that he is even remotely worth that $95 million contract Boston signed him to a couple of years ago. This is the perfect time for him to do just that. Stay healthy, do something with a bat in your hands and make sure that title as Boston’s starting third baseman cannot be revoked in 2017.