BOSTON -- It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2014, and the Panda was about to turn into a turkey.
First, though, the Boston Red Sox called a doubleheader news conference to unveil their shiny new free-agent baubles. They were proud to have landed both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, but were particularly over the moon about the former -- a prime-aged third baseman and three-time World Series champion who chose Boston's five-year, $95 million offer over an identical contract to stay with the San Francisco Giants. Sandoval even turned down a larger deal to go to the San Diego Padres.
Then-general manager Ben Cherington said Sandoval "really embodies a lot of what we care about." He described the switch-hitter as "a big winner" and someone who "loves to play," presenting him as the solution to a third-base problem that had lingered ever since the BoSox allowed Adrian Beltre to leave via free agency four years earlier.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Sandoval's tenure with the Sox was a train wreck almost from the start. It contributed to Cherington being ousted from the organization, and Sandoval walked out the door Friday when the team designated him for assignment despite owing him nearly $49 million through the end of the 2019 season.
The move had become inevitable in the past two weeks. With Sandoval on the disabled list suffering from, of all things, an inner ear infection, the Red Sox were a better team. And that would have been the case even if light-hitting Deven Marrero and Double-A call-up Tzu-Wei Lin weren't playing out of their minds while Sandoval was out of sight on a time-buying rehab assignment in Triple-A.
There were ominous signs from the start. Sandoval's OPS declined during each of his final four seasons in San Francisco, dropping from .909 in 2011 to .789 in 2012, .758 in 2013 and .739 in 2014. An effective hitter from both sides of the plate early in his career, he batted only .199 with a .563 OPS right-handed in 2014. And do we even need to mention Sandoval's weight? It was a constant issue for the Giants -- and that was before Sandoval had the security of a $95 million contract.
But even Sandoval's harshest critics couldn't have predicted it would end like this. Sandoval played in only 161 of the Red Sox's 413 games since the beginning of the 2015 season. During that stretch, he batted .237 with a .646 OPS, ranking 26th out of 28 third basemen with at least 250 plate appearances. Worse yet, Sandoval was worth minus-2.6 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs.
With these numbers in mind, Sandoval must be included at the very top of anyone's short list of worst signings in Red Sox history. Given the investment, the only player who comes close is outfielder Carl Crawford, and he still produced a 0.3 WAR before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who assumed a considerable amount of his salary. The Red Sox won't be as fortunate with Sandoval.
Here are a few of the lowest lowlights from the Sandoval Era in Boston, ranked from ugly to merely bad:
1. June 18, 2015: Sandoval is benched for one game in Atlanta after getting caught "liking" photos of a woman on Instagram during the previous night's game. Sandoval explains he was using his phone in the bathroom between innings.
2. April 9, 2016: In his only start of the season, Sandoval's belt breaks on a swing and miss. The video instantly goes viral.
3. April 5, 2016: Sandoval begins the season on the bench after getting beaten out for the third-base job by Travis Shaw in spring training. The Red Sox had been frustrated with Sandoval for reporting to spring training out of shape.
4. May 3, 2016: Sandoval undergoes season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
5. June 20, 2017: Sandoval returns to the disabled list with an inner ear infection. He had been batting .212 with a .623 OPS in 32 games.
6. April 23, 2017: Sandoval begins the season healthy after a strong spring training in which he has little competition for the third-base job (Shaw had been traded in the offseason). But Sandoval goes on the disabled list after spraining his right knee while ranging for a hard grounder during a game in Baltimore. He misses a month.
7. Sept. 20, 2015: Sandoval scores the go-ahead run in the eighth inning in Toronto, then is replaced because of dehydration symptoms. He doesn't play again that season, sitting out the final 14 games and not traveling with the team on a season-ending road trip because of pneumonia.