Let’s just get the bad news out there first: Pablo Sandoval, beloved, chubby, enigmatic, playoff heroic third baseman for the World Champion San Francisco Giants should not be re-signed this off-season.
It will be a disastrously unpopular move if the Giants, but it is the correct one. This will feel like John Lennon leaving the Beatles or Joe Montana in Kansas City Chiefs uniform. But it still needs to be done.
The ticker tape is over, the billion-dollar debacle that is Levi’s Stadium is now open and our beloved AT&T Park closed for the winter. The love remains, but if we want to celebrate at City Hall again anytime soon, the tough love part of the thankless job of general manager must begin now.
Yet I know it likely won’t. GM Brian Sabean will likely overpay the Panda out of loyalty and love. For the next six years we will have a ginormous dead weight on the books that will rival Barry Zito’s awful deal. (Note: Barry Zito is a true member of the Giant. He is a better person. He saved us in 2012. His grace under fire proved him a true role model. I love the guy, but his contract remains one of the worst in baseball).
Because that’s what Sabes does. He overpays for veteran talent, even when it’s not ours. Remember Edgar Renteria’s $18 million?
Bill Simmons of ESPN did when he wrote simply of the Renteria signing, “Does Brian Sabean even watch baseball?”
Old, disinterested and slow are not what you pay over-market for a shortshop, but Sabes did and it was disaster right up until the 2010 World Series where Renteria made his last stand as a clutch ballplayer and led the Giants to a historic first championship. $18 million for a World Series is a steal. But toss in Barry Zito’s nine-figure albatross and Marco Scutaro’s millions not to play, Angel Pagan’s $40 million for part-time work and Tim Lincecum’s $35 million for long relief and well, you get the picture. Loyalty pays a dear price, which may just explain why the Giants can only win every other year.
Of course it sounds ridiculous to expect better than three World Series in five years. It’s astounding and nearly historic. But I’ll say what most everyone really believes: The Giants overachieve and win unlikely championships despite Sabean and his obvious problems in the roster because of sure-fire Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochey.
The reason the Giants are always underachievers? Because of those loyalty contracts weighing down the roster every single year. The team has a $150 million payroll that in reality is like a small-market $90 million payroll because of the dead wood contracts.
Sandoval is a charismatic talent and a great playoff player. During the season, he is prone to huge slumps, excessive weight gain, up and down years and a decided lack of power for a guy so… robust. Those Octobers makes you see what you miss during most of the season except for a few hot streaks when he single-handily carries the team. We love Sandoval because his energy is terrific, he is a model team player, he comes to play every single day and plays through pain. He loves baseball and plays like it.
He has vastly improved his defense, but remained a guy Bochey subbed for in the late innings. He couldn’t hit left-handers this year. He was a platoon player in disguise. You don’t pay $100 million for a platoon?
But what happens when he turns 30, gains another 30, and his love for other life’s pleasures tips the delicate scales of his unique talent toward debauchery?
Sandoval hitting .330 when he was a spry, agile catcher who had to train to stay in the lineup was a budding superstar. But since moving to 3B, he’s added weight, become a .270 hitter who never really did have much consistent power. Now he wants — and some fool team like the Yankees will pay him — superstar dollars in excess of $100 million guaranteed. This is a man who ate his way out of the lineup in 2010 and couldn’t keep the weight of this season with a huge contract on the line. Do we really think he’ll stay in shape with $100 million bucks?
Just think of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth years of this deal? For a guy with a clearly neurotic compulsion to avoid waste, the thought makes me anxiously scan Google for a shrink.
I love the Giants. I love Pablo and the Panda hats. I’d hate to see him go, and knowing Sabean’s past I suspect I won’t. Instead I’ll see his contract become dead wood over a painfully long period that will cost the Panda all the love he’s stored up over his wonderful time here in San Francisco. Some good things must come to an end. This is one and it likely won’t and there won’t be much good to come of it.