There has never been another player like Pablo Sandoval. Usually, when we say that, it's a good thing. And, maybe with Sandoval, it used to be. But not anymore. The Red Sox third baseman was benched yesterday, one year into a five year contract with the Boston Red Sox after an underwhelming spring in which he showed up out of shape and didn't hit. Last year, he had an OPS+ of 76 and was worth almost a full win under replacement.
This is not a fat-shaming column. We've seen ballplayers have impressive success with weird body types before. Tony Gwynn could still hit singles in his sleep long after he could effectively field his position. Kirby Puckett's booty eventually got too big to motor around center field, but he could still hit as well. John Kruk, who sported one of the worst bodies of any hitter ever, hit .300 for his career and was an on-base machine. David Wells remained a hell of a pitcher even as his beer belly grew. Some guys can play with a "bad" body, at least for a while.
It would appear that Sandoval has reached that tipping point, however, where his weight is no longer a kooky affectation; it's hurting him at the plate and in the field. And it's on the verge of getting him traded and, perhaps eventually, run out of the league.
It's gotten to the point where I'm left to wonder whether that's what he wants. I've never questioned a player's motivation before. And God knows, when I say someone needs to lose weight, it's the pot telling the kettle "do what I say, not what I do." But seriously, how do you let it get to this if baseball is what you want to be doing with your life? How do you allow your skills to erode so much that you can be supplanted by a 25 year old, Travis Shaw, who has only hit .256/.319/.395 in Triple-A and who has played far more first base than third in his professional career? How was last year not a wake-up call?
I find myself drawn to players who fail, where I can root for their redemption. Guys like Rick Ankiel and Josh Hamilton and Scott Kazmir and Matt Bush. I want them to look at the abyss, and to turn back and make something out of all the pieces that they broke. But Sandoval stared at the abyss this offseason, and seems to have just kept going. I'm sympathetic to that, but I'm also saddened and horrified at what he's done to himself and his talent.
Maybe a trade would, indeed, be good for the guy who used to affectionately called Kung Fu Panda. Maybe he needs warmer weather or a better media environment or fewer distractions than Boston can provide. If the Red Sox can get the Padres (who are rumored to be interested) to send them James Shields or Melvin Upton for the him, and save even a little bit of money, they should. Maybe that's the only thing that will save Pablo Sandoval. God knows, without playing time and incentive to keep himself in anything close to playing shape, he doesn't seem to have the motivation to save himself.