Red Sox go with Shaw over Panda at third base

Farrell says decision came down to defense; Sandoval supportive, focused on bench contribution

Red Sox go with Shaw over Panda at third base

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Travis Shaw's determination to earn a starting job paid off when manager John Farrell announced on Thursday that he beat out veteran Pablo Sandoval as the team's primary third baseman.

"Very exciting," said the 25-year-old Shaw. "I feel like I did what I needed to do this spring to put myself in the best position, and I'm looking forward to experiencing my first Opening Day."

"I've had a chance to meet with both guys this morning, as I've met with them numerous times throughout the course of Spring Training," said Farrell. "For right now, to start the season, we feel this is the best for our team to go with this alignment."

Shaw's three-run blast

Sandoval expressed a team-first attitude when he spoke of the decision.

"They made the decision," said Sandoval. "It was the right decision to help the team win. I'm going to be ready during the season to do my job out there."

When the Red Sox signed Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million contract in November 2014, it would have been hard to imagine the announcement that took place on Thursday.

Farrell maintained throughout camp that roles would be determined based on performance and not salary. That became more evident with Thursday's decision, and with the news earlier this week that Rusney Castillo will come off the bench.

"My focus is on the guys that are in uniform, not what's attached to them or what their contract states," said Farrell. "We're all about evaluating and what's best for our team -- not so much the better player, but what's best for our team at the moment for us to begin the season. So to disconnect from a financial figure, that's about putting the best team on the field."

Sandoval struggled offensively (.245/.292/.366) and defensively (15 errors in 293 chances) last season. He spent Spring Training trying to regain the range and technique he had at the hot corner during his years with the Giants, but Farrell's evaluation is that Shaw is better at this point.

Shaw starts a double play

"The more we exposed Travis to third base, the defense became really a deciding factor," said Farrell. "In this case, you have to compare one on one. There's overall better range, and Pablo's well aware of this. We're working on increasing that range. To say that this has just strictly been a head-up competition in Spring Training, this is inclusive of a bigger body of work that's not just limited to camp."

Unlike many Red Sox prospects who are hyped throughout their time in the Minor Leagues, Shaw, a ninth-round pick in 2011, was under the radar. He got his chance to play regularly in the Major Leagues for the last two months of 2015 after the Red Sox traded Mike Napoli. Shaw belted 13 homers in 226 at-bats.

A natural first baseman, Shaw proved versatile enough to win a job at a different position this spring.

"I believed in myself at third for pretty much my whole career," Shaw said. "It's just kind of taken a while for other people to kind of jump on board. I'm ready. I feel like I'm in a good spot defensively and offensively, and I'll be ready to do whatever I can to help this team win and get out of the gate strong."

The native of Washington Court House, Ohio, and Kent State alum is thrilled that he'll be in the Opening Day lineup when the Red Sox open in Cleveland on Monday.

"Yeah, that will be pretty cool," said Shaw. "It's 30 minutes from where I went to college. I'm sure there will be a lot of family that comes up Monday. To have it be in Cleveland ... if it's not in Boston, Cleveland would probably be the second-best place."

Meanwhile, Sandoval will start the season in an unusual spot -- cheering on his teammates from the bench.

"It's going to be difficult, but I have to be happy," said Sandoval. "[Shaw] is doing a great job and [had] a fantastic spring so, like I say, it's going to be a tough battle. Nothing is easy. You know, I just look out for the best for the team. If it's going to help the team, I'm happy."

Perhaps Sandoval will win back the job at some point.

"The challenge will be for us to carve out his role, to keep him in the flow as best as possible," Farrell said. "I think the important thing here is that this is a starting point. Pablo understood it. He's got a long history in the big leagues, and yet we've got to get it right to where he's got an opportunity to earn back that job at some point."

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Shaw ripped 13 round-trippers across 226 at-bats with the Red Sox last season, and he belted 21 in the Minors in '14. And even though he is unlikely to prove helpful in the batting-average department, he may not hurt in that category either. With the potential to tally 20-25 homers and 75 RBIs, he should be added in all leagues with at least 12 teams. Meanwhile, Sandoval should be shipped to waivers in all formats. Even if he regains a starting role at some point this season, his upside is limited by a lack of consistent power production.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.