BOSTON — One of the worst contracts in Red Sox history and an untenable situation at third base came to a head Friday, when the Red Sox designated Pablo Sandoval for assignment.
The struggling third baseman, who signed for a guaranteed $95 million ahead of the 2015 season, is still owed at least $41 million from the 2018-19 seasons, including a $5 million buyout of a team option for 2020. A bit more than halfway through the season, there’s more than $7 million of his 2017 salary still to be paid out, leaving more than $48 million still on the Red Sox’ books in all.
"That was hard," Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Friday afternoon of the decision. "Talking about a lot of money. I give ownership a lot of credit that they are willing to allow us to do this."
Sox manager John Farrell said defense was the biggest problem for Sandoval.
"We were not a better club if he were on our club at the major league level," Dombrowski said.
The Sox have seven days to make a move with Sandoval now that he has been DFA'd. Sandoval will pass through release waivers, at which point another team can pick up Sandoval for the minimum with the Sox on the hook for all that dough. Per Dombrowski, Sandoval told the team on Thursday he would not grant the Sox permission to send him to the minor leagues — which is within his rights because of his major league service time.
If released as expected, then, Sandoval's salary counts against luxury tax threshold — minus any salary from where ever he may land.
"I think there’s more baseball left in him," Farrell said.
A trade is technically possible, but would still require the Red Sox to eat the vast majority of the money owed to Sandoval. Dombrowski said Friday he already tried to shop Sandoval unsucessfully.
A discussion about going to the minors came up with Sandoval as far back as Monday, Dombrowski said, and talk of making this move internally stretched even further back with ownership.
"Talked about it a while ago, really a few weeks ago actually," Dombrowski said. "Spoke with John Henry and Tom Werner."
Sandoval, 30, was nearing the end of a minor league rehab assignment and the Red Sox had to make a call on their future at third base. Farrell has spoken about the infusion of energy Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero have brought, and for now, they'll handle the third-base duties. Their presence made the move easier, Dombrowski acknowledged.
Sandoval finished his two-plus seasons with the Red Sox with just 161 games played, hitting .237 with a .646 OPS. He hit .212 in 32 games this season and looked poor defensively.
Sandoval had glory days in San Francisco before joining the Red Sox, but it went south quickly. He missed nearly all of 2016, a year when he was noticeably out of shape, because of shoulder surgery.
Former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington’s legacy was bettered in the last year, particularly because of the young core of players that drove the team to a 93-win season and an American League East title in 2016. But Sandoval’s acquisition is virtually guaranteed to go down as his worst move.
Top prospect Rafael Devers' path to Triple-A was cleared with the exits of Sandoval and Jhonny Peralta. The latter was released on Thursday.