BOSTON — Pablo Sandoval’s Red Sox career seems a case of too little too late.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Friday said there were “other issues” at play for Sandoval. He did not call them off-the-field issues, but that seems a matter of semantics — something was, or some things were, going on in his life that contributed to his downfall with the Sox.
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“I could say in 2017, and really into 2016 in the winter time, he worked hard,” Dombrowski said. “We had people that worked for him. He had some issues that he was dealing with that really probably didn't get him into shape, that didn't get him into the shape we would have liked. But there was more to it that I can't really get into, private type of issues for him. But I will say that since I've been here — I can't speak for before I was here — his effort level has been good. But I think we have had, going into 2016, going into his surgery, once he had that surgery we had a more comprehensive program ourselves to address a lot of different things that needed to be addressed.”
Sandoval may well have a career revival with another organization. He has a good track record against right-handed pitching. The Red Sox, don’t forget, said they would have preferred Sandoval stay in the minors with them and get every day at-bats.
But now that Sandoval’s Sox career is over, you have to wonder if there were red flags that were missed, or misjudged.
Could those “other issues” that cropped up with Sandoval been discovered by the Red Sox previously, if they previously existed? Were they known, but ignored, or underestimated?
That “more comprehensive program” Dombrowski referred to sounds like something that could have been in place sooner. Particularly when it comes to the oversight of Sandoval’s eating habits — the one area that was publicly known to be a problem for Sandoval well before he joined the Red Sox.
Here’s how the Red Sox look at it: for one, it takes two to tango. Any player has to want to help himself. There were mechanisms in place to help Sandoval and his nutrition from the day he got to Boston. Clearly, those mechanisms evolved, as Dombrowski spoke about.
Here’s the other, perhaps most important point: with any player, it’s hard to know exactly what their needs are until they’re in house.
Once you’re living with someone, you learn a lot more about them. The best scouting in the world doesn’t compare to having a player in your organization, and the Red Sox have great scouting.
Still, that reality doesn’t eliminate a question of whether the Sox-Sandoval acquaintance process was too slow.
Sandoval did tell ESPN over the winter that he had become complacent, but work ethic never seemed to be the primary issue. Consider what Giants manager Bruce Bochy said on MLB Network Radio in 2013 about Sandoval, whose best years were with the Giants.
“He knows long term he’s got to get some [weight] off,” Bochy said four years ago of Sandoval. “Because it’s going to help him, it’s going to help his career. He’s so good he gets away with it right now. Another two three years from now, it’s going to catch up with him.
“He’s done all he can do as far as the conditioning part. We work him as hard as any player I’ve ever had. … He’s doing cardio two or three times a day.”
Eating was the problem. (Or at least, one of them.)
“Unfortunately, he’s not shown the discipline we would like at the table, and that’s what’s getting him right now,” Bochy said. “It’s hard to play third base if you’re overweight. You got to come in on a slow roller and it cuts down your range.”
It’s almost like Bochy predicted the future.
“He just got to be able to control himself a little bit,” Bochy continued. “Some of us don’t have the best genes. … It’s a tough thing to beat. Pablo, he’s got to do it, for his future.”
Were the Red Sox listening loudly enough? Was Sandoval?
A former private trainer of Sandoval’s from his time with the Giants, Ethan Banning, said last year the Sox never reached out to him as they pursued Sandoval. Banning detailed how he helped control both what Sandoval ate and drank — minimal booze — and how rapidly Sandoval could gain weight.
“I care about him greatly,” said Banning, who lost touch with Sandoval after the 2011-12 offseason. “But it’s a tough love. He needs to be smart enough to say there’s a problem. It’s like the alcoholic that won’t admit he’s an alcoholic: well, you can’t address that you’re an alcoholic if you don’t ever admit there’s a problem.
“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.”
The Red Sox, over this past offseason, seemed to figure out the level of support Sandoval needed. Sandoval also might have figured out what he needed in the last year.
It’s too bad it didn’t happen sooner.