In the fall of 2014, I was all aboard the panda express. No, I’m not talking about the restaurant, and no, I’m not talking about that martial arts practicing bear, either. I’m talking about the 2012 World Series Most Valuable Player, swing at (and somehow hit) every pitch outside of the strike zone, bubblegum-blowing All Star third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who from 2008-2014 served as an integral part of a San Francisco Giants dynasty that won three World Series in the span of five years.
I remember when Sandoval caught the final out of the 2014 World Series and fell to his knees. I did, too. I might have even given my Giants-themed panda pillow pet a hug also, but I can’t remember. The point is, I shared the excitement of a third championship with Sandoval as if I were on the field in Kansas City with him. I shoved the thought that Sandoval would be a free agent in the coming months to the back of my mind, because surely, a man who loved playing in San Francisco almost as much as the fans in their panda hats loved having him there would never leave, right?
Despite posing with fan-written signs that said things like “Don’t leave, we love you Panda!” and assuring his supporters that San Francisco was where he wanted to play in 2015, Sandoval burned the Giants organization and its fans when he signed a five-year, $95 million contract with the Boston Red Sox on Nov. 24, 2014 – a deal similar to what the Giants had offered him, but Sandoval claimed he was looking for a “new challenge.”
Boston turned out to be an entirely new and difficult challenge for Sandoval, and the organization effectively cut ties with him Friday, designating the 30-year-old third baseman for assignment. Whether it was the new environment or the ever-present issue of his weight which hampered Sandoval, I have just three words for one of my former favorite players: karma’s a…well, you know what it is.
Seeing as there most likely isn’t a team willing to take on the $49 million remaining in his contract, Sandoval will probably become a free agent, meaning he can be picked up by any team. As soon as word of Sandoval’s designation for assignment hit the internet, Twitter went wild with speculation. Will Sandoval return to AT&T Park? Is it worth it? Could he possibly turn the Giants’ disastrous season around?
To these three questions, I respond no, no and no. Sandoval had his time with the Giants. He could have had more, playing in front of a fan base who excitedly donned giants panda heads every time he came up to bat, but he threw it all away for the prospect of an even bigger city and a couple of his friends on the roster (Boston’s Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz are both close with Sandoval.)
For one, let’s take a look at Sandoval’s declining performance. Over the span of seven seasons with the Giants, he batted .294 with 106 homeruns – pretty good numbers for a player who struggled with weight issues throughout the course of his career in San Francisco, which even resulted in him sitting out during the 2010 World Series. He bounced back from those issues with help of the Giants training staff, but when he crossed the country into Red Sox territory, his weight problems followed.
Sandoval posted an average of .236 during his three seasons with the Red Sox, and had just six at bats in 2016. Sandoval has either been hurt, out of shape or otherwise just not hitting during his time in Boston, and the organization has gone through six starters at third base, including him, since he has been on the team, essentially making his contract one of the worst decisions in Major League Baseball history.
Sure, the Giants have been known to bring back former stars like Ryan Vogelsong, Travis Ishikawa, Conor Gillaspie and, most recently, Michael Morse, many of which have resulted in fairy tale endings. The difference? Those players didn’t slap the organization that they once called home in the face when they left, and were greeted with open arms when they returned. I doubt Sandoval would receive the same warm welcome.
Has AT&T Park been the same since Sandoval left? To that, I’d say no. The team sniffed the playoffs last year, but has yet to return to their former glory of the dynasty years, during which Sandoval could often be seen in the dugout, dancing a jig or performing one of his many individual handshakes with a teammate. He brought life to the clubhouse, yes, but based on his numbers in Boston, that personality may not be enough to win him a spot in San Francisco.
If the Giants were contending this year, which they aren’t, and were still lacking a big bat, which they currently are, I would say go for it. Sign Sandoval. I would be mad about it because my feelings are still hurt, but it would be worth a try just to see if he could once again pummel balls into Triple’s Alley, because like him or not, the guy thrived at AT&T Park.
But, Sandoval, if you’re reading this, the Giants don’t need you, just like you didn’t need them in 2014. If the team has to rebuild, they’ll do it without you, and they’ll certainly recover from this less-than-stellar season without you. But, I thank you for the good times and for the joy of watching such a fun, talented player in his prime run the bases in San Francisco, and I wish you the best of luck. But Giants, please don’t sign him.