ORLANDO – Pablo Sandoval is due to become a free agent after this upcoming season. The only real question was whether he would waddle or walk into it.
But Giants GM Brian Sabean has half a mind to prevent Sandoval from getting that far.
In a surprising statement that showed a shift in thinking, Sabean said on Tuesday that the Giants might attempt to explore an extension this spring with Sandoval, their 2012 World Series MVP and starting third baseman, in spite of the ongoing weight issues he has battled throughout his career.
Part of that is the Giants’ paucity of hitting talent in the minor leagues. The other part is the amount of money that’s getting tossed around this offseason. Sandoval, as Sabean pointed out, would be a youthful, 27-year-old switch hitter with plenty of run-producing potential if he hits the free-agent market next winter.
“He’s not going to be short on suitors, trust me,” Sabean said. “No matter what his weight is.”
Sabean said that as long as Sandoval appears healthy and committed to his conditioning this spring, negotiating an extension would be “the conventional wisdom. But I’m only one voice, one vote.”
There will be plenty of dissenting voices. Club officials have been exasperated at times with Sandoval’s recurring weight issues and his disappointing performances. He lost his starting job down the stretch in 2010 because his defense regressed and he became winded just by taking a few ground balls. He battled injuries each of the last two seasons, including two hamate fractures that were unrelated to his weight problems and a strained foot that might have been to some degree.
Current and former teammates also have expressed private frustration with Sandoval, who wasn’t able to give the club the offensive boost they needed this past season.
But a downright nutty free-agent market has a way of changing minds.
“We like the person, we like the talent,” Sabean said of Sandoval. “He’s just got an issue he’s been having a hard tome conquering. Perhaps his impending free-agency is the best medicine. … But switch-hitting run producers are hard to find.
“I’m not a doctor and I’m not the good lord. So I don’t know what someone is able to do with their weight and body type. All I know is he’s a Giant, and whatever his weight has been, Pablo loves the game and loves competing. We’ve helped him every year, and in some years, he’s helped himself more than others. This year, we believe he’s particularly determined.”
Sandoval weighed 275 pounds at one point last season and might have packed on a little more than that before he started a new diet program with his brother, a recent culinary school grad, serving as his personal chef. Sabean said Sandoval has gotten below 250 pounds in Venezuela this winter, and his other brother, Michael, has littered social media with plenty of pictures and videos of his workouts.
The Giants don’t have much behind Sandoval at third base, unless you include Joaquin Arias or Tony Abreu. Adam Duvall was just added to the 40-man roster and is having a nice season in Venezuela, but he’s seen as more of an extra man. Ryder Jones is the club’s top third base prospect, but he graduated from high school last June.
Of course, the Giants have one heck of a fallback option if they decide to move Buster Posey to third base in 2015. Posey wants to catch and the Giants are committed to keeping him there for the foreseeable future. But Sabean mentioned Andrew Susac as a future frontline catcher, if he can do better at maintaining his focus from pitch to pitch and shore up his blocking skills.
But perhaps it’s no surprise that Sabean would prefer to keep Sandoval beyond next season. They valued their internal options when they re-signed Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez, too.
And what to make about all those Sandoval trade rumors earlier this winter?
The Giants have fielded “tons” of calls on him, Sabean said. They have no appetite to move him, though.
“It’s the nature of the business, and we’re doing the same thing, asking on the same guys” Sabean said. “A lot of pitchers and players have been traded in the last year of their contract.”
Sandoval is coming to the end of a three-year, $17.15 million deal that bought out his final arbitration years.