The San Francisco Giants have yet to fill their outfield void this offseason, but that does not mean they haven’t been busy.
The Giants have already re-signed Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez, among others, and they recently brought free-agent starter Tim Hudson on board. Now, according to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, Giants general manager Brian Sabean is considering giving third baseman Pablo Sandoval a contract extension if he can slim down.
Sandoval’s weight issues have constantly reared their ugly head throughout his years in San Francisco, to the extent where they have greatly affected his on-field performance. However, he has still found a way to produce for the Giants, with accomplishments that include a top-10 MVP finish and a World Series MVP award.
Even with Sandoval's potential pitfalls, the Giants would be wise to lock up their starting third baseman.
Perhaps most importantly, Sandoval will be in high demand next offseason. If the Giants fail to re-sign him and he hits the open market, his price will increase exponentially. As Grant Brisbee of SB Nation notes, several teams have vacancies at third base, including the Yankees and Dodgers. If the Giants want to keep Sandoval around, competing with the deep pockets of those clubs is not a prudent option.
When Sandoval is indeed in shape, he ranks among the best third basemen in the game. His consistency is something the Giants have experienced from few hitters in the past several years.
Since 2009, Sandoval’s first full season, he has hit below .278 just once, amassing a career .298 batting average. According to baseball-reference.com, his average statistics over a 162-game span include 20 home runs, 89 RBI and 38 doubles.
The concern is, of course, how many of those 162 games can he play in a full season.
No contract extension comes without a certain degree of risk, but Sandoval’s injury history is particularly concerning. The oft-injured third baseman has missed 120 games in the past three seasons. This is why the Giants must be extremely conscientious about the significance of Sandoval’s weight; his ability to stay in shape should dictate whether he receives this extension at all.
Despite the weight concerns, Sandoval has the benefit of playing in his “prime” years. He is currently 27 years old, well before the time when players typically begin to decline. Many of the long contracts that go wrong (i.e. Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez) are given to players in their early 30s.
If Sabean is smart and signs Sandoval to a deal that does not take him into those dangerous years, the Giants should not have to deal with his inevitable decline.
Another factor working in Sandoval's favor is his improving plate discipline, widely regarded as his biggest weakness.
He has increased his walk totals in each of the past two seasons, drawing a respectable 47 free passes last year. Of the 140 qualified hitters last season, Sandoval placed near the middle, ranking 78th in bases on balls. While that is far from impressive, it is certainly a step above where he used to be.