The Pablo Sandoval Dilemma

The San Francisco Giants currently sit comfortably in a playoff spot in the National League. They are but 3.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West race. Only two teams in the NL have more wins than the Giants’ 62.

And yet, the Giants are probably not a great team. They project to land square in the middle of a Wild Card dogfight. They are either the worst good team in baseball or the best bad team in baseball. Sometimes they look the part, other nights their lineup betrays the mediocrity lurking within.

In my mind, these key traits of the the Giants are reflected in two of their best-known players, Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval. Brilliant at times but perplexing at others. While Lincecum is quickly becoming a beloved enigma, Sandoval is a little tougher to figure. He’s not what he once was or what he might have been, but he remains a vital contributor to the Giants’ success.

But he is perceived as such? You can watch Sandoval play and see an overweight ballplayer happy to swing at any pitch thrown between his eyebrows and shoe tops. You see a hitter with his best years behind him, a guy with wild swings in his production and an injury-risk unable to stay on the field.

Or, you see a non-superstar but still quite good third baseman about to hit free agency. You see a player in just his age-27 season. You see a switch hitter with real pop. You see a middle-of-the-order hitter for two World Series winners. You see one of the best defensive third baseman in the game this year.

Your thoughts on Pablo Sandoval can say a lot about you. In his own way, the Kung Fu Panda is a window into your very soul. The flaws and shortcomings in his game are easy to pick up, but too much time spent pointing them out misses his value, both to the current, playoff-aspirant Giants and as a free agent.

The “real” Sandoval is some combination of the two. More than anything, you have one of the most interesting free agent cases in recent memory. Few players reach free agency in time for their age-28 season, and few third baseman hit the open market with the sort of earning power Sandoval possesses.

Below is a list of third baseman to sign free agent contracts longer than three years since the year 2000.

That’s it. That’s the whole list. Chone Figgins barely belongs on said list but he’s included for posterity. It’s a short list. There might well be a new name added to that list come this winter, when both Chase Headley and the Giants starting third baseman figure to test the waters. The idea of Sandoval earning a lucrative contract with this kind of term might seem crazy, considering the ups and downs during his time in SF.

There is no lack of teams that Sandoval could help next year, though the team with the most pressing need might be the team he’s helping right now. He is putting together a now-typical Sandoval season, boasting a 120 wRC+ with 14 homers. He does the same things he always did, swinging at more pitches than just about anybody.

As Sandoval puts his rough April further and further in the rearview mirror, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine the Giants, notoriously loyal to their “guys”, letting Sandoval walk with only a compensation pick coming back. Given Sandoval’s youth and productivity, it should be a no-brainer for him to remain in San Francisco. But his size, injury-woes, and approach are big red flags.

The biggest challenge is sliding Sandoval into a box that best encapsulates his performance. Though he plays the same position as Aramis Ramirez while putting up similar power numbers and K/BB rates, Sandoval’s a free swinger to such an extreme that he renders most comps pointless. A less powerful, switch hitting Josh Hamilton?

Because he is so unorthodox, it is natural to wonder when the clock might strike twelve on Sandoval’s ability to produce at the big league level. And though his numbers aren’t what they were during his breakout years (2009 & 2011), he remains one of the top ten third baseman in baseball. His numbers have leveled off over the last three seasons, producing close to 120 wRC+ with solid power (.150 ISO in a park that works hard to keep such numbers low) while remaining the same swing-happy maniac he’s always been. This is who he is now, and it is nothing at which to sneeze.

As Jeff Sullivan showed earlier this season, Sandoval swings at more pitches when he’s feeling good and seeing the ball well. The more he swings, the more he hits. Right now, he feels good and he’s swinging at everything and hitting everything, with almost as many extra base hits (10) as walks or strikeouts (12) over the last month. He’s doing his part to keep the Giants near the top of the NL West and in the playoff race.

The more he gives them, the higher he drives his value and the harder it becomes to let him walk. As noted at the top, few noteworthy third basemen get to free agency. Pablo Sandoval is certainly noteworthy – both to San Francisco and the third base market. Don’t be surprised if you see Headley sporting one of these hats this winter.



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Drew used to write about baseball and other things at theScore but now he writes here. Follow him on twitter @DrewGROF


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Steve
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Steve

It’s not hard to let someone walk when you know you’ll be overpaying them for multiple seasons in order to keep him. Why bet against aging curves?

Anthony
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Anthony

In recent memory, San Francisco has re-signed or extended Scutaro, Pagan, Pence, Affeldt, Lopez and Lincecum either just before the season had ended or to a free agent contract. They like to keep their guys- Cain, Posey and Bumgarner have had nice extensions too. I also believe they re-upped Huff after the ’10 WS to a 2-year deal.

Panda Friend
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Panda Friend

Or just give him a one yeAr test contract. Not the biggest risk in the World.

Peace!

Anthony
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Anthony

They don’t have a track record of standing firm and not giving players longer term, unwarranted security. Why would Sandoval let them do it to him? Panda has two titles, two 5-win seasons and is having a very productive walk year, and is a career Giant. He’s their best third baseman in awhile; there’s no reason he shouldn’t expect what Hunter Pence got just a year ago.

Jason B
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Jason B

I wouldn’t think the two titles carries much weight in a contract negotiation; they didn’t resign Zito after his 7 year, $1.8 trillion (give or take) deal expired.

Dean
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Panda isn’t Walter Alston. He will demand 5 years and 100 million dollars. A one year ‘tester’ would be great, but he will NEVER be in a better position to max his position than after 2014. He would be an idiot to take one year.

Tommy Kelly
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Tommy Kelly

He is NOT going to settle for a “one year test contract.” He has already made it clear he wants a “Hunter Pence contract” (five years, $90 million) and if he does not get it from the Giants, he will go somewhere else.

KCDaveInLA
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KCDaveInLA

If Pablo could keep his weight under control, he should be reaching his peak years…but fat guys tend to get fatter. (One reason I did a Mr. Burns-like “Excellent” when the hated Tigers signed Prince Fielder…then did a Homer-like “D’OH!” when they got the excellent Ian Kinsler for him). Doesn’t bode well when combined with the unique pressure of third base (hit like a corner outfielder, field like a shortstop). I would be afraid of giving him more than 3 years.

Babe Ruth
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Babe Ruth

Pfft

Preston
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Preston

http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/nyy/photogallery/anniversary/championships/page_01.jsp

That’s Babe Ruth at age 28. He was not nearly as big as Pablo is now, I actually believe that he was his listed 6’2″ 215 in that image. Obviously he added somewhere around 40 excess pounds to his weight over the next decade. Which is the point. If Pablo added 40 pounds to his frame he would be out of baseball.

gnomez
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gnomez

If Pablo added 40 pounds to his frame he would be out of baseball. If he added 80 pounds to his frame, he would be Mo Vaughn.

Go Nats
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Go Nats

Dude, Pablo is ont of the top defensive players in the game. So although he looks fat, he does not play fat at all!

fat fat
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fat fat

He IS fat. Listed at 5’11” and 240. Which means is is really 5’9.5″ and 265.

Unless you are Mr. Universe, you ain’t 5’9.5″ and 265 and muscular.

And yes, I know what real athletic people are. Three of my friends in HS played on the University of Michigan basketball team and one of my friends ran 10.5 in the 100m in HS. A lot of people that have broken 10 for the 100m ran 10.5 in HS; if he weren’t lazy he could have been one of the fastest men in the WORLD.

Jahvid Best was the fastest HS guy in California and ran a 10.35 if memory serves…10.5 was the best time for Michigan our year.

Denard Robinson, the guy that everybody said was so fast, was like a 10.9 in HS.

But I digress, that cat is FATTT.

bmarkham
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bmarkham

@ fat fat

The point is that it doesn’t matter if you still move well. Jhonny Peralta has a gut too, but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the best SS in the league while in his 30’s.

As a Cards fan I wouldn’t mind seeing them open up the wallet for someone like Sandoval and moving Carpenter back to 2B, but Wong hasn’t been bad either and has 5 more years of cheap control so it wouldn’t make much sense unless they also were moving Wong for some value elsewhere on the roster.

Preston
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Preston

@bmarkham it does matter because it effects how you’re going to age. He’s putting more stress on his body at that weight, he’s already had injury problems. At some point those injuries cause your skills to erode. A team that signs him should expect him to have an abnormal aging curve. Johnny Peralta having a little gut is not the same as having 40 extra pounds on your back and knees all day long.

Bartolo Colon
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Bartolo Colon

Getting fatter doesn’t necessarily mean getting worse at baseball.

Ivan Grushenko
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Ivan Grushenko

No, but it does mean putting more stress on your knees and legs. It might mean getting less durable.

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