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At what point do the Giants give up on Pablo Sandoval?

The Giants are experimenting with an old friend, and it’s not a bad idea. But how long should they give the experiment?

Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As someone who really didn’t get that bent out of shape about Pablo Sandoval’s post-Giants comments about how he didn’t miss the team, I came around to the idea of him coming back. He was awful in 2015, got just seven plate appearances in 2016, and was still very much in small-sample territory for the Red Sox this year (108 PA). There was still a chance that good player was trapped inside the bad player, and the Giants wouldn’t have to pay a lot to find out.

Remember, the Giants took a chance on Pat Burrell that worked out, and the situation was similar. He’d had exactly one poor season with the Rays and about 100 plate appearances the following season before they gave up on him. The only differences are that Sandoval managed to fit a season lost to injury in there, and that Burrell was two years older than Sandoval is now when the Giants got him. In a way, Sandoval was an even better gamble because of his age.

The upside is obvious: an average or above-average player for two years at the major league minimum. That would help the Giants build a better team in a couple different ways, and the only reason we’re even surprised is because the guy was on the team before. He’d be the hitting equivalent of Sam Dyson on any other team. The baggage was only going to follow him to one city, and it happened to be the one he chose. If you ignore the baggage, the move made sense.

However, while we’re still in small-sample territory, there are concerning developments afoot.

Sandoval w/Red Sox in 2017: .212/.269/.354, 108 PA
Sandoval w/Giants in 2017: .235/.278/.353, 54 PA

That’s eerily similar. And while it’s too early to draw conclusions, we should probably prepare ourselves for the possibility that Sandoval is just a .230/.270/.350 kind of hitter now. Which isn’t good. At all. That wouldn’t even make for a half-decent bench player, and it wouldn’t even be close.

This brings us to the question posed in the headline: How long do the Giants give Sandoval to impress them? A couple of the possibilities:

Just this season

The only reason that Sandoval is getting this much time is that Christian Arroyo is out for the season, but at least the Giants can really get a solid look at him now. If Austin Slater and Brandon Belt were both healthy, the Giants would have needed to figure out what to do with Ryder Jones and Arroyo, and they wouldn’t have bothered with Sandoval at all, I’m guessing. Now they can just plug him into the lineup and record the data for later evaluations.

If the rest of Sandoval’s season goes like this, the Giants might prefer to have the roster spot ahead of the Rule 5 Draft. They might value someone like, say, Sam Coonrod more than the player they think Sandoval is based on his time back with the Giants.

This seems very un-Giants, to give up on a player so soon, but Sandoval hasn’t been good since 2014

Through spring training next year, at least

You do realize that we’re in for a month of “Here’s What Kind Of Shape Pablo Sandoval Is In” articles next year, right? Boy, I sure didn’t miss those when he was gone, but Satan will make up for lost time and make sure you can’t look at the internet for more than five seconds without an update on the physique and workout habits of Sandoval.

In this scenario, the Giants aren’t too concerned about Sandoval’s slow 2017, and they’ll excuse it as him being rusty because he missed so much time last year. The real test will come in spring training, as this team loves making decisions based on how hitters fair against A-ball pitchers who aren’t in the majors for a reason. If he impresses there, he’ll make the club, probably as some sort of super-Gillaspie, not as the de facto starter.

Until the first part of the regular season next year

The Giants might suffer through a poor performance this year. They might ignore a rough Cactus League next year, even. But if Sandoval gets to May with a lackluster line, then he’s in Casey McGehee territory and in danger of getting cut (although the actual McGehee lasted until July).

If Sandoval is still bad 300 plate appearances into the experiment, the Giants can sigh and complain that they tried. That’s a reasonable amount, even if spread over two seasons.

He is the new Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum, and they’ll stick with him until his contract runs out because, dang it, he used to be good, which means he can be good again, just wait, you’ll see, just wait

Oh, we like to joke, but I really don’t see this one happening. Sandoval will have been bad for a couple of different teams at that point, and I don’t know why that makes a difference, but it does. The Giants (and their fans) will have been used to saying goodbye to this particular player, so maybe that’s the distinction. But it’s hard for me to picture Sandoval with the Giants in 2019, still struggling the whole time.

Well, not that hard.

Okay, maybe it’ll happen.

But I’m going for a two-part answer. I think the Giants will give up on Sandoval in spring training next year if he struggles. If he does well, they’ll give him the McGehee treatment in the middle of the season.

I also think it’s not impossible that he spends the next month-plus to impress the Giants and all of us. His bat speed looks fine, but his timing is off. I’m not convinced he’s lost all of his skills just yet.

If he has, though, it’ll be a while before the Giants cut him loose. The dream of an average player or better for the league minimum is a beautiful dream, and the Giants aren’t strange for chasing it. It’s just strange that they’re chasing it with that guy who was already here.