About once a week, whether in person or on the phone, I'm asked if the Giants should re-sign Pablo Sandoval. The question is usually phrased like this:
So, the Giants probably shouldn't re-sign Pablo Sandoval, right?
Occasionally it's not phrased in a negative context like that, but usually it is. Never forget that when you spend all day on the Internet talking about baseball with baseball dorks, the people you know in the flesh world might have different opinions about baseball. Sandoval is probably the best current example. There are a lot of Giants fans who just don't appreciate the guy.
We can speculate about the armchair-psychology reasons for that -- the first 30 or 40 have to do with body type and/or perceived effort, I'd guess -- but I'm more interested in making a case for Pablo Sandoval that everyone can understand. The Giants need to re-sign him. They've spent the last three or four seasons making sure that all of their players stick around, and this is when they let a player go? Madness.
My argument has three points:
1. Pablo Sandoval is good
This is an underrated facet of the argument in favor of keeping Sandoval. Dude's good.
I have this image of Sandoval being wildly erratic and streaky from season to season. Mostly because I remember his 2009 (one of the best 3B seasons in San Francisco history) followed by his 2010 (lost his job before the playoffs, essentially to a 50-year-old Edgar Renteria), which was then followed by his 2011 (one of the best seasons in San Francisco history). Except he's been remarkably consistent over the last three years:
2012: .283/.342/.447, 123 OPS+
2013: .278/.341/.417, 117 OPS+
2014: .281/.326/.430, 116 OPS+
This is the player he is, apparently. After the league adjusted and he readjusted to the new adjustments to the first adjustments, he settled in as a very nice, but not great, hitter. I think part of the problem is that people still aren't used to the idea that offense is way down all across the league, just as it's hard to remember that AT&T Park is in the middle of one of the toughest three-year stretches on hitters in baseball history. Let's go to Baseball-Reference.com and use their fun tool to estimate what Sandoval's career numbers might look like in a neutral ballpark when AT&T Park opened in 2000:
Pablo Sandoval in a higher-offense era in a neutral park would look much, much more like a star hitter than he does right now. He wouldn't exactly be Tony Gwynn, but his value would be immediately obvious to anyone looking at the back of a baseball card. Instead, we have to look at WAR to get a half-decent understanding of his total value:
He just passed Darrell Evans to be the third-most valuable third baseman in San Francisco history, behind Jim Ray Hart and Matt Williams. This allows us to segue into the next point ...
2. Pablo Sandoval is young
This is very, very important. Usually when you hand out a big contract to a player, you're expecting the last couple years to be rancid squirrel meat. Hunter Pence is dandy now, but by the end of his contract, he'll be an absolute drag on the team. The Giants don't have any illusions about that. It's not like they were the ones fighting for a fifth year because they were scared Pence was going to bolt. It's just the price of paying players market value.
Except Sandoval just turned 28; he's ostensibly still in his prime. Here's how I'd expect his career to progress:
28: Same ol' Pablo
29: Same ol' Pablo
30: Same ol' Pablo
31: Not exactly the same ol' Pablo, but close enough
32: Noticeably different, but still okay, Pablo
Those are all wild guesses, of course. He could get bitten by an asp and retire after he turns 30, or he could start hitting .350 with 40-homer power next year. But the thought of a five-year deal doesn't scare me in the same way that it does other players. It's one of the reasons I think a mystery team will go seven years, and why the Giants will slink away. The Rangers had to go seven years to get a 31-year-old outfielder (Shin-Soo Choo) last year. It'll probably happen to Pablo if he gets to free agency.
Unless he'll still take the Pence deal. Say, how about that Pence deal? Please take the Pence deal.
3. There aren't any good realistic replacements
Option #1: Sign a busted player, hoping he can be great again (Chase Headley)
Option #2: Sign an old stopgap, hoping to squeeze out one or two more good years (Aramis Ramirez)
Option #3: Hope for internal development (Matt Duffy, Adam Duvall)
Option #4: Move Buster Posey to third, start Andrew Susac (KNBR)
Option #5: Trade prospects for a third baseman who probably isn't as good as Sandoval (Matt Dominguez)
I think that fourth option makes a lot of sense to a lot of people, and as much as we joke about it now, a position change is coming at some point. Might be five years from now, but Posey's moving. Third makes sense, considering his strong arm.
For now, though, the Giants' best lineup involves Posey behind the plate and Sandoval at third. This will be the case for the next several years, I'm guessing. Certainly next year, though. And the Giants are good now. I mean, they're kind of good. They have a chance to be good now, more like. They have Posey now. They have a healthy Bumgarner and productive Pence now. Brandons Crawford and Belt provide a good cost-to-production balance now.
Not paying Sandoval because you're worried about the 2019 budget seems weird. The 2019 Giants might be dreadful. Or they might be filled with superstar rookies making the league minimum. What's the point in taking away from a 2015 team that should contend to take chances with the mystery team?
4. He knows where the bathrooms are
Saves everyone a lot of time.
Four points. My argument has four points.
After all that up there, though, I'm convinced the Giants aren't going to re-sign him. I'm pessimistic. There are too many teams with too much money, and they don't get a chance at a 28-year-old free agent that often. If there's any good news, it's that a lot of those teams have a franchise third baseman already in place, or have one coming.
Except for the Dodgers.
Seriously, just get ready for it now so you won't be as mad later. I'm not even trolling on this one. I give the Dodgers at least even odds if Sandoval makes it to free agency.
For now, though, I just wanted a dumbed-down argument for keeping Sandoval somewhere on the site. There it is. He's good, he's young, and the Giants don't have a lot of great options without him on a roster built to win in the short term. Sign him for anything less than the Zito, please.