A mostly complete list of the premium free-agent hitters on the market next year:
You might not consider some of those guys to be premium free agents. You would be absolutely correct. But after this tier, there's Brett Gardner, Josh Willingham, and, uh, Nate Schierholtz? And some of these guys, especially Ramirez, will sign extensions before next offseason. If you're looking for a hitter, next year isn't the time to do it. That's probably why Nelson Cruz will be giggling and rolling around in diamonds soon.
Also a free agent next year: Pablo Sandoval.
There's a strong chance that Sandoval will be the hitter on the market. Teams without a long-term solution at third base include the Dodgers and Yankees, which seems like a pretty good way to start a money bonfire. So this isn't surprising at all:
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.
Really, the time for an extension was years ago, fluffiness or no. But that's hindsight. Hindquarters hindsight? Whatever. The Giants are sort of in a pickle, here. They were waiting for Sandoval to get in shape on his own before considering an extension, and it looks like nine-figure contracts are pretty danged good motivators.
Well, say, that feller looks like an athlete getting ready for the season. Extension or not, I don't see how this can be bad news for the Giants in 2014.
But he's going to get all of the money if he looks like that. All of it. You will ask him for money to heat your house, and you will hope he is benevolent about it.
And if he actually hits and plays the third base he's capable of? Hoo, boy.
Let's talk money, then. You might think the Hunter Pence deal of five years/$90 million is a good place to start. Except it sure looks like Pence left a lot of money on the table with that extension. It seems funny, considering that deal was a little divisive around these parts, but wait until you see what Shin-Soo Choo gets. Good gravy, wait until you see what Nelson Cruz gets. I'm not sure anything other than nine figures will keep Sandoval away from free agency.
I'd pay it, too. The thing that separates Sandoval from almost all of the names on that free-agent list is his age: He'll be 28 in the first year of his new deal. That means a five-year contract doesn't take him into scary territory. You'll have to give seven or eight years for that, and I really wouldn't be surprised if he gets something like that if he has a big year and makes it to free agency.
So, yeah, explore away, Giants. Make earnest offers and keep the conversation going. Because even though Sandoval has been frustrating at times with his injuries and production, he's still the best bet the Giants will have for a middle-of-the-order hitter over the next few years, and he's already here, ostensibly willing to listen.
Don't expect anything, though. Any extension Sandoval signs will make you spit your lips out of your nose, but that's nothing compared to what he might get on the open market. He knows that. And he probably wants to find out for himself just how much that is.