By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
While the New England region is fully engrossed in the Patriots – and more specifically, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s – drive for number five, as in Super Bowl titles; spring training for the Red Sox is only weeks away. Even though opening day is still seemingly a lifetime off, the Sox propaganda machine is whirling away at high speed.
Since before Christmas, pictures of Pablo Sandoval – or half of last year’s spring training Sandoval – have made the rounds on social media and in the press. The once pudgy Panda is looking more like a professional athlete, something the Red Sox are counting on continuing throughout the 2017 season.
And it is not like they have any other choice. The Sox enter spring training perilously thin at third base, with their prospects for a replacement for the Panda should he rediscover his love for a fork and knife, almost non-existent. Gone is last year’s fix, Travis Shaw, who was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers as part of the package for reliever Tyler Thornburg.
While Boston fans may love them some Brock Holt, he is currently listed as an outfielder on the team’s 25-man roster on their website, and he has shown the propensity to wilt under the pressure of playing every day. That leaves Josh Rutledge or perhaps Marco Hernandez – who is listed as a second baseman – to fill the void if Sandoval once again becomes a human vacuum for food.
And don’t think that isn’t a distinct possibility. As his former trainer in San Francisco Ethan Banning told the Boston Herald’s Evan Drellich last April, he once packed on 21 pounds in 21 days, in a Christmas trip to his native Venezuela. “Twenty-one pounds in 21 days, that sounds unreal,” he told the Herald. “He loves to be loved by people. And he connects with people, and the way that (Venezuelan) culture connects is through food. Food is love to them.”
Anyway you slice it – pun intended – 21 pounds in 21 days is the kind of love even Barney the purple dinosaur would be jealous of.
Who is to say that when he is released from what seems to be a boot camp like atmosphere in Ft. Myers, and once again has to function as an MLB baseball player who doesn’t have a baby sitter, and has access to the finest eateries in every city in which he plays; he will not revert to his gluttonous ways?
“He’s proven to me and shown consistently that he’s got to have somebody like me holding his hand doing that. And it’s not an exercise thing, it’s an eating thing. Obviously exercise is an important factor in it, a very important factor, but eating is going to be the component that needs to be managed and monitored. We had a chef on staff that cooked all his meals,” Banning told Drellich.
Surely, team president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will assign someone to make sure his penciled in third baseman isn’t hiding Ho-Ho’s in his locker, or having pepperoni pizzas slipped under his hotel door on the road; however, much like any other addict, if they want to get their fix bad enough they will figure out a way to get it.
Hopefully, Sandoval has figured out his issues with eating, and he will return to being a productive player for the Red Sox. However, if he hasn’t, the Sox could be in a real pickle – again, pun intended. In the new luxury tax world of the recently ratified Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement, the once spend to the moon and back Red Sox are currently attempting to be frugal.
According to most reports, after arbitration with the players on the roster who are eligible, the Sox will be approximately $10 million under the $195 million threshold (And that is not counting the $11 million a piece owned to Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig, each of whom are not on the 40-man roster. Thanks, Ben Cherington.), and in an ideal world, that money will be set aside for a trade deadline acquisition.
Much like Sandoval, the fearsome offense of 2016 has thinned out considerably, with the retirement of designated hitter David Ortiz. That massive black hole in the middle of the line up, will only put more pressure on the likes of Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to produce at an All-Star level, something that Ramirez has shown flashes of, but Pablo has never approached in a Red Sox uniform.
While over the next month, football fans in New England may be watching history unfold before their eyes, the Red Sox front office and their fans will be hoping come April, that Sandoval’s history of becoming vastly overweight during the season, doesn’t come back to bite them.