Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sandoval Shaping Up

Can a slimmed-down Sandoval save his career? (Boston CBS Local)
Pablo Sandoval was probably pretty disappointed when he found out he was going to need season-ending shoulder surgery last May. Nobody wants to be told they’re done for the year when it’s only just begun, especially when your only memorable highlight was busting your belt. If there’s a silver lining from Sandoval's lost season, however, it’s that surgery might yet save his career.

Because let’s face it; even if he'd stayed healthy, Sandoval wasn't going to offer much last year. Coming off the worst season of his career, he arrived at spring training overweight (again), failed to bat said weight and wound up losing his starting job to a player making $17 million less than him. Sandoval rode the pine in April, appearing in just three games as Travis Shaw and the Red Sox got off to torrid starts.

Sandoval was stuck. His team had little use for him while his contract and recent performance made him untradeable. So he wasted away on the bench, watching Shaw’s success systematically destroy whatever shot he had at redemption in 2016.

Now, with Shaw out of the picture, Sandoval has another opportunity to get back in Boston’s good graces. He wisely used his time off to get in "the best shape of his life" and prove he’s serious about his conditioning. Hopefully he also used that time to fix his swing and work on his defense, but both should improve if he maintains his svelte physique.

A year off could do Sandoval wonders. It certainly did for John Lackey, another West Coast star who initially struggled upon signing a big contract with the Red Sox. After pitching at a historically awful level in 2011, Lackey missed all of ’12 recovering from Tommy John surgery. It was a turning point in his career, as a slimmed-down Lackey returned to form in 2013 and is still going strong into his late 30s.

After last year, Sandoval has nowhere to go but up. It’s not hard to imagine him having a similar renaissance in 2017, given that he’ll only be 30. He’ll also be extra motivated to prove himself after everything that's happened since he landed in Boston.

On the other hand, going under the knife may only hasten Sandoval’s decline. Adrian Gonzalez fell off significantly as a hitter following the same procedure, which doesn’t bode well for Sandoval -- a much lesser hitter to start with. He may also find that taking a whole year off severely disrupts his timing, which could prevent him from having the kind of start he needs to secure regular playing time again (Shaw may be gone, but Brock Holt and Rafael Devers are looming).

How the rest of Sandoval’s career plays out will likely be decided by what he does over the next calendar year. If he keeps the weight off and recovers the skills he showed in San Francisco, he'll return from the abyss. But if his body balloons and his struggles persist, he may lose his job for good.

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