Monday, Oct. 21
SAN FRANCISCO — Speculation regarding a possible trade involving Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval completely makes sense.
It’s logical to anticipate that Sandoval will thrive in 2014, the final year of his three-year, $17.15 million contract, to propel himself boldly into free agency. Such a projection also would be flimsy given Sandoval’s performance, which has fluctuated along with his weight. Anyone expecting the switch-hitter to use last October’s World Series Most Valuable Player distinction to launch him closer to stardom must be disappointed. Sandoval, 27, hit .278 this year, sixth among Giants with at least 300 plate appearances. He accumulated 14 home runs, fourth on the team, and 79 RBIs, his third-best career total.
This was Sandoval’s fifth full Major League season. He has gone on the disabled list in each of the last three years without establishing consistency at the plate, though he has become a competent defender. If one is to assume anything about Sandoval’s upcoming season, it’s that he’ll somehow disappoint more than deliver. Hence the buzz, started recently by the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, that the Giants might consider proposals featuring Sandoval. Club management is gradually losing patience with him, as general manager Brian Sabean indicated in his season-ending summary (“The sky’s still the limit. We’re still waiting for that”).
At the same time, Sandoval retains enough cachet to attract multiple suitors. The Giants might be able to include him in a package that would fetch them a serviceable starting pitcher. Any club hoping to bolster its offense would be intrigued by Sandoval, who retains 30-homer, 100-RBI talent. So why don’t the Giants keep him? Again, his production has teased the Giants more than it has satisfied them. Even if he puts together a solid season next year, whoever’s employing him must deal with his impending free agency. If the Giants were to swap Sandoval, they could lean safely on the “better to trade a player a year too early” maxim.
Without Sandoval, the Giants could move Marco Scutaro from second base to third. Scutaro’s unremarkable range wouldn’t be as much of a liability at third, where he’d be asked to cover less ground due to the nature of the position and shortstop Brandon Crawford’s excellence. Filling the vacancy at either second or third could be a challenge, however. The free-agent market at those positions basically consists of Robinson Cano (who probably would ask for the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, with Alcatraz thrown in) and a bunch of one-year stopgaps in their mid-30s. Perhaps the Giants could ask for a second baseman in any trade involving Sandoval.
Or perhaps the Giants won’t trade Sandoval at all, which many Giants fans likely would prefer. He’ll forever remain popular at AT&T Park, despite — or even because of — his foibles. He’s the Kung Fu Panda; so what if he struggles with his weight? Who doesn’t? Moreover, the promise he flashes when his line drives find gaps or fly over the fence and frustrate Justin Verlander remains tantalizing. So does the potential of an effective Sandoval forming a solid middle of the order with Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt.
Sandoval will give the Giants much to ponder when they confront the decision to trade or re-sign him. Whether they endure that headache sooner or later remains to be seen.
– Chris Haft