What Should The Giants Do With Pablo Sandoval?

The Winter Meetings are in full-swing down in Orlando, and the San Francisco Giants have yet to land a left field bat. That’s not to say that General Manager Brian Sabean won’t bring us a power-hitter in 2014, but just in case we’re looking at a platoon of Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez in left, the biggest power positions then become the corner infield spots. Brandon Belt had a great second-half of 2013 and, in my personal opinion, is going to have a break-out season next year.

That leaves us with third base. What can we expect from that position in 2014?

Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent at the end of next season. Based on some comments that Sabean made on Monday, the Giants would be open to negotiating with him even before the 2014 campaign begins.

“Perhaps his pending free agency is the best medicine. If we’re impressed by what we see when he comes to Spring Training, I wouldn’t be against talking about an extension.”

For those who don’t know, Sabean is referring to Sandoval’s fluctuating weight. Over the past five seasons in San Francisco, the third baseman has struggled to maintain a healthy weight and was even benched for much of the 2010 postseason due to the struggles that his weight caused. In that 2010 season, Sandoval hit just .268 – down from .330 in his rookie season of 2009 – and cut his home run production nearly in half with 13 – down from 25 the year before.

However, in 2011 – a contract year – the Kung Fu Panda rebounded to put together a nice season. Despite missing some time with a wrist injury, he hit .315 with 23 home runs and 70 RBIs in 117 at-bats. In January of 2012, Sabean and the Giants signed him to a three-year deal worth $17.15 million; a down-right bargain in today’s market. However, this was before Sandoval was the 2012 World Series MVP and took Justin Verlander deep three times in a single game, surely upping his value.

So what should the Giants do about Sandoval now? Based on Sabean’s comment, it certainly seems like trading the Panda is out of the question. The tweets and videos on social media from the third baseman’s PR campaign have showed us that he is indeed getting in shape this offseason. He is working towards that big contract. But is it a good idea for the Giants?

Honestly, my gut feeling says no. Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to see what an in-shape, contract-year Sandoval can do for a sometimes-stagnant San Francisco offense. I’m not sure signing him to a big contract prior to the start of the season is the best idea for the simple reason that it eliminates some of the motivation to perform.

I’m also not convinced that a big, long-term contract for Sandoval is what’s best for the Giants in the long run. His batting averages over the past five years have been inconsistent (.330/.268/.315/.283/.278). He’s also shown that he’s prone to injury, dealing with a foot strain, elbow inflammation, a thigh strain, broken hamate bone, and a sore shoulder. While not all of these are weight related, some can definitely be attributed to being out of shape.

All in all, I like Pablo Sandoval. He’s a fan favorite, which is big for the black-and-orange. He plays an agile third base, especially for a bigger guy. He can provide pop in a lackluster line-up. However, his inconsistency and lack of discipline with his plate (dinner plate, see what I did there?) could lead to big problems as he gets older. At 27, it’s not yet a problem. But a few years from now? The Giants don’t want to get stuck with a guy who’s unwilling to work hard to remain in shape, even when the motivation of a contract-year isn’t there.

If I were Sabean, I’d wait on Sandoval’s contract. What’s the rush in signing in Spring Training? If Pablo is the long-term solution at third, he can show us on the field in 2014.