Spring Forward: Work to do for Red Sox

670518.jpg

Spring Forward: Work to do for Red Sox

As the Red Sox head into Spring Training they have plenty of questions that need answering. Who will play short? What about right field? And how healthy is the team?

Sandoval's surgery just a temporary solution to Sox problem

red-sox-pablo-sandoval.jpg

Sandoval's surgery just a temporary solution to Sox problem

CHICAGO -- His left shoulder surgically repaired, Pablo Sandoval is now out of sight and out of mind for the Red Sox.
     
Travis Shaw, who beat out Sandoval for the third base job in the spring, is showing that the Sox made the right move with his play at third and his strong start at the plate.
     
Shaw may not be a natural third baseman, or even an above-average one. But his range is superior to that of Sandoval and his offensive production strong.
     
The move was addition by subtraction. Disregard the salaries attached to both players: the Red Sox got better -- not worse -- when Shaw became the starter and Sandoval the stand-in.
    
But the notion that the Red Sox have arrived at some permanent solution here is a false one.
     
Yes, Sandoval will be gone from Fenway, exiled to Florida to rehab his shoulder, and perhaps, reshape his physique.
     
But he's not really disappearing. He'll just be in hiding for a few months. And when spring training begins next February, Sandoval will be a problem all over again for the Red Sox.
     
This surgery -- beyond repairing Sandoval's mysteriously injured shoulder - can be seen as kicking the can down the road. Sandoval's not really going away.
     
When 2017 begins, the Red Sox will still owe him $58 million over the next three seasons ($17 million in 2017, $18 million each in 2018 and 2019 and a $5 million option buyout for 2020).
     
For that, the Red Sox will get a player coming off major surgery who's performance has been in decline for several seasons, who can play only one position, and despite nominally being a switch-hitter, can actually only hit lefthanded.
     
What a treasure.
     
Trimming one year of salary off the $95 million mega deal signed by Sandoval helps some, but it's really only a small step. There's still a lot of money owed to a player who will soon turn 30.
     
In the unlikely event that a player with that profile could interest another team, Sandoval will start have to prove that he's healthy next spring. No team is going to take on even a portion of that contract without having it demonstrated that Sandoval's shoulder is in working condition.
     
Could Sandoval then be pawned off elsewhere? Perhaps. But it will require the Red Sox to subsidize a significant portion of that contract to faciliate a trade.
     
Whatever that price may be -- half of the reminaining money? - the Red Sox should pay it. It's clear that Sandoval won't ever be a contrbuting player in Boston.
     
The Red Sox have Shaw, just 25, as their third baseman of the present and future. They have Hanley Ramirez to either handle first base or slide into the DH vacancy to be created by David Ortiz's retirement.
     
If the Sox want Ramirez to remain at first, they could seek a veteran slugger like Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion to fill the DH job.
     
Or, they could have Ramirez move to DH and promote Sam Travis to be their first baseman.
     
Whatever plan they select, there's no role for Sandoval beyond "aging, overpaid, limited role player.''
     
That's not in anyone's best interest. So until the Red Sox find a more permanent solution, don't be fooled: Sandoval remains a burden - financially and otherwise -- who will, eventually, end up elsewhere.

May 4, 2016: If expansion hits, which Pens goalie is protected?

cp-morning-skate.jpg

May 4, 2016: If expansion hits, which Pens goalie is protected?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while giving a warm May the Fourth Be With You to everybody out there.

*Mike Francesa has declared sports radio war on former New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, and it’s getting ugly folks.

 

*A humbled Bruce Boudreau, who really didn’t need to be humbled given what a nice man he is, will have a long line of NHL suitors interested in his services.

 

*The Northeastern University hockey team has gone to some extremes with their pregame wrestling matches.

 

*Pro Hockey Talk asks the question: if there’s an expansion draft, which goaltender should the Penguins protect given what’s going on in their playoff series?

 

*A really nice gesture within the PHT morning skate with Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper going to bat for a Lightning beat reporter that finds himself out of a job.

 

*Max Domi had a very memorable rookie season even if it didn’t end with any serious consideration for the Calder Trophy.

 

*The Nashville Predators got a little better this week with the decision to kick Mike Ribeiro up into the press box.

 

*For something completely different: these Han Solo uniform jerseys for the Durham Bulls’ Star Wars Night are the freakin’ truth.

Patriots contract dance is a daunting one

donta_hightower.jpg

Patriots contract dance is a daunting one

We are in the Patriots’ silent spring. Aside from the ongoing mud wrestle Tom Brady’s engaged in with the NFL and the noise surrounding that, it’s quiet with the football team.

Minimal personnel outflow. An interesting haul of B-list free agents. A workmanlike draft of players who won’t likely make much impact in their rookie seasons.

But this calm precedes a roster storm the team is facing over the next nine months.

Nine players of major consequence are entering the final year of their contracts. On offense, it’s not a crisis. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is the only expiring contract.

Defensively? Different story. Linebackers Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard, defensive backs Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Malcolm Butler (restricted free agent) are all expiring. As is special teams ace and captain Matthew Slater.

But wait, there’s still more. A bunch of the free agent/trade imports the Patriots made are here on one-year deals: tight ends Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor, defensive linemen Chris Long and Terrance Knighton and guard Jonathan Cooper.

Add in OL Marcus Cannon, RB LeGarrette Blount, DL Alan Branch, WR Aaron Dobson, RB Brandon Bolden, LB Jonathan Freeny, FB James Develin, WR Chris Harper, TE Michael Williams, G Cameron Fleming and lower-tier free agent signings like DT Markus Kuhn, WR Nate Washington, LB Ramon Humber, CB E.J. Biggers and DE Frank Kearse and overall there are 30 (!!) players with expiring deals.

A few of those players won’t even make it through the summer with the team. And the fact others, like Bennett, Long, Knighton, Cooper, Blount and Washington, are on one-year “show us” deals isn’t bad. It’s smart.

But the volume of consequential players – especially on defense – who’ll be looking for new deals means there’s an interesting dance for Bill Belichick and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio to engage in.

The Patriots have to do what’s best for their football team. But some of the players whose contracts are up are obligated to do what’s best for themselves business-wise.

And a lot of them are in line for their second contracts. They are facing what will probably be the most pivotal financial period in their lives over the next few months.

Consider a player like Jamie Collins. A second-round pick in 2013, his initial contract was for $3.76M. You take out taxes, agent fees, expenses, etc. and how much money do you think Collins has to show for the three seasons in which he’s been a rising star in the league? Certainly not enough to feel financially comfortable for the rest of his life.

But – barring catastrophic injury – Collins’ next contract is going to be a huge financial haul that should set up him and his family for decades.

By comparison, Lavonte David of the Buccaneers signed a five-year $50M contract with more than $25M guaranteed last August. Both play outside linebacker at a high level. Both were initially second-round picks (David, No. 58 in 2012; Collins, No. 52 in 2013).

Then there are players like Harmon and Ryan – good rising players who are not going to be paid like stars and may never be Pro Bowlers but are going to play in the league for a long time. Last season, Ryan took a huge step forward, starting opposite Malcolm Butler, putting up some outstanding advanced statistics and increasing his profile around the league. Harmon had a similar year. Ryan will have made $2.77M by the end of his rookie deal; Harmon will make $2.71M.

Unlike Collins, who is a freak talent and is going to get teams throwing tens of millions at him, Ryan and Harmon have a little more uncertainty. If the Patriots present them with offers prior to this year, do they take the security of knowing they are program mainstays or do they wait it out and test the market.

Ryan can look at a player like Buster Skrine who signed a $25M deal with the Jets last year and say, “Whoa… that could be me.” Harmon will have to see the offer he gets from the Patriots and compare it to the one the team gave his good friend Devin McCourty last year ($47.5M). Is Harmon half the player McCourty is? One-third? Will another team see in Harmon the potential to be comparable to McCourty?

Hightower, a former first-round pick, is more financially set than the other guys staring at second contracts. Hightower was down to make $7.724M from 2012-15. The Patriots picked up his fifth-year option for 2016 which will pay him $7.75M. So he’s in position to make more than $15M by the end of the season. He’s another player who could command more than $50M in a new deal if he goes to free agency. Would he be willing to take the security of staying in New England for a deal that may not be as lucrative as what he could command on the open market?

That’s what Jerod Mayo did and it proved to be the right move. Mayo – who came into the league under the previous CBA that was more lucrative for rookie first-rounders – agreed to a five-year extension in December of 2011 before his fourth NFL season was up, 15 months before he would have become a free agent. The extension was worth $48.5M. Mayo wound up on season-ending IR in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and he renegotiated his deal a couple of times but there was good security built into that deal. He retired recently having made more than $42M in the NFL.

We could go on with individual situations – Malcolm Butler could reasonably expect to make more than Janoris Jenkins who signed with the Giants for $62M this offseason, but Butler’s two years from unrestricted free agency and making less than $1M in salary this year; Jabaal Sheard needed to prove himself after a slow start to his career in Cleveland led him to a the two-year, $11M deal he signed with the Patriots. He’s en route to doing that and is – thanks to signing that short-term deal – in line to get another crack to cash in while in his prime.

And nobody should begrudge these players for doing so. We all know by now the future physical peril they put themselves in and we will never run out of stories related to young men who blew their money thinking it would never dry up. The players owe it to themselves and their families to make sure they are compensated as well as they can be.

Belichick, Caserio and the Krafts are aware of that too. Their chore is to do right by as many of these guys as they can against a hard salary cap and make sure the team isn’t mortgaged to its eyeballs.

It’s as complex a contractual puzzle as I can recall.