FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In a battle to retain his job as the Red Sox starting third baseman, Pablo Sandoval will be unavailable to the Red Sox over the next few days because of lower back stiffness, suffered Tuesday when he went diving for a ground ball in Jupiter, Fla.
So, what does this mean for Sandoval? Anything? Nothing?
Those reading the tea leaves, or prone to conspiracy theories, might suggest that this is a sign that the Sox are leaning toward Travis Shaw as their third baseman on April 4 in Cleveland.
Sandoval's at-bats have been generally better in the last week. But he's made a team-high four errors and his conditioning continues to be a talking point in camp.
"The biggest thing is,'' said John Farrell after the Red Sox' 4-1 win over the New York Mets, "we've got to get him back on the field first. See if there are any restrictions physically. We've got to get him right and that's the next step in this, before anything else solidifies before the opener.”
As for the competition, it's effectively frozen. Sandoval can't very do much to keep his job if he can't get on the field.
"Well, in light of an injury, or in the situation of an injury, the decision is pretty much made for you,'' said Farrell. "Now, depending on how long this goes...we still clearly have him in day-to-day status. Like I said, we've got to get him back on the field when he's first available.''
In the meantime, Shaw will continue to get the lion's share of playing time at third while Sandoval gets healthy. Shaw was hitless in three at-bats Thursday, but is still hitting .419 for the spring.
And, for the time being, Shaw has the stage to himself without worrying about sharing playing time at third with Sandoval.
Farrell noted that Sandoval injured his back when "he dove to his backhand side over against the Marlins (Tuesday). We were in here yesterday and he came in (for treatment). The back stiffness. He was in here getting treatment most of the day yesterday and again today."
The manager was then asked whether Sandoval was a candidate to go on the disabled list.
"No, not at this point,'' said Farrell.
By early next week, Sandoval could be back at his position, with the job competition resumed. Or, he could fail to make progress and be headed for the DL, in which case the decision is taken out the Red Sox' hands, and Shaw is considered the winner by default.
If Shaw wins the job outright, the Red Sox will have to determine what to do with Sandoval and the remaining $75 million they owe him. A converted catcher earlier in his career, Sandoval can't help out anywhere else but first, and the prospect of having such a big salary sitting on the bench can't be appetizing, even if Dave Dombrowski has decreed that contracts won't determine who's in the starting lineup.
And if Sandoval does just enough next week to retain the position, it will leave some wondering whether the competition wasn't fixed in the first place, since Shaw has, for the last few weeks of Grapefruit League play, been the superior player.
For now, we're in a holding pattern.
Beyond that, it's anyone's guess.