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The Panda

I wrote an article a few months ago about Pablo Sandoval and what I think the Giants should maybe do about his contract. Now that we’ve all seen what he did over the offseason and how good he looks and how much effort he’s clearly put into getting into better shape, my thoughts are still the same. So, if you’re one of those people who reads everything that I write (bless you), this will be a bit of a repeat. I just wanted to throw it out there again as we get ready to head into Spring Training games.

Sandoval arrived a few days early to Scottsdale, showing off a svelte-r frame – down about 30 pounds according to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News. Obviously, this is great news for us Giants fans because it should 1) decrease his chance of injury 2) increase his range in the field, and 3) increase his bat speed. All things that have significantly slowed down over the past few years as he’s packed on the pounds. These are indicators that Sandoval is serious about 2014 and is ready to put his best foot forward. But does that mean that the Giants should sign him to a big, long-term contract before the start of the season?

In my opinion, no.

The Panda is a good guy who brings a light-heartedness to the clubhouse and salsas with his teammates in the dugout (Seriously, if you haven’t seen Pence and him dancing, youtube it). The reports coming out of Spring Training about Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Hunter Pence, and Marco Scutaro approaching Sandoval at the end of last season and encouraging him to take the game, the team, and his health seriously are great to hear. The chemistry and camaraderie on this Giants team is undeniable and refreshing in pro sports.

That being sad, it’s a little disconcerting that it took his teammates urging him to take being in shape seriously for Sandoval to actually put it into action. I’m sure the added motivation of it being a contract year also doesn’t hurt. Again, it’s great that he’s in shape, and he seems ready to be serious about the season, but I’m not sure I like how much it took for him to show up to Spring Training in the type of shape that he needed to be in.

Let’s compare him to another guy who’s known to be a contract-year player: Juan Uribe.

In 2009, the Giants signed Uribe to a one-year deal. During this contract year, he hit .289 with 16 home runs, 55 RBIs, and an .824 OPS in 122 games. The next year, also a one-year deal, he hit 24 home runs, 85 RBIs, but his average dropped to .248. The Giants and Uribe parted ways after the 2010 season, and he ended up signing with the hated Los Angeles Dodgers to a three-year deal. He hit just .204 in 2011 and .191 in 2012 while netting just six home runs and 45 RBIs over that two-year span while battling various injuries.

However, then came his  – you guessed it! – contract year in 2013, and he bounced back in a huge way, hitting .278 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs. It seemed to work, as he just signed a two-year deal worth $13 million with the Dodgers. Uribe is a career .253 hitter, so we can see how his average trends up when he’s about to become a free agent.

Of course I hope that Sandoval will have a career-year. Contract years motivate most major league players. But if I’m Brian Sabean and the Giants I’m hesitant to re-sign a player who seems to need so much motivation to stay fit and healthy and committed to the game. I’d love to see the Giants sign the Panda to a two- or three-year deal for somewhere from $17-20 million. It’s a decent amount of money and the shorter-term contract could help to keep Sandoval on his toes (literally and figuratively).

If I’m being honest, I’m worried that a long-term contract would lessen his drive.

Hopefully, I’m wrong. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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