Now that he's started hitting again, Pablo Sandoval presents the Giants with a perplexing question: How much do they want to invest to keep him after this year?
It's easy enough to dismiss his agent's reported asking price of five years and $90 million as a starting point as ridiculous, but there are teams which would gladly meet those terms. One of them is approximately 400 miles to the south. Juan Uribe seems to be at the end of his career, so the Los Angeles Dodgers need a third baseman. They already have the highest payroll in the major leagues, so you can be certain they wouldn't balk at the demands of Sandoval's agent.
The Giants could have extended Sandoval's contract in the offseason, but logic was against that. He needed to show that he could rein in the eating habits that had reduced him to a below average player. He has done that, adopting a reasonable diet that trimmed off many pounds and has kept him fit. But then, another problem surfaced: He wasn't hitting, with an average well below .200. It seemed that Sandoval's career would come to an abrupt end.
But manager Bruce Bochy sensed something while watching Sandoval in batting practice. Pablo suddenly was swinging with authority, as he had earlier in his Giants career. So, Bochy put him in the cleanup spot. It seemed a counter intuitive move, but Bochy looked like a genius when Sandoval went on a spurt that finally pushed his batting average over .200 and was a significant factor in a nice run for the Giants.
So, it's no longer a question of whether the Giants will want to keep Sandoval, but how much will they pay?
The Giants are very conscious of the popularity of players, and that weighs heavily into their contract negotiations. They overpaid for an extension of Tim Lincecum's contract, two years at $35 million, because they knew that Lincecum is very popular with fans. His offbeat style plays well in San Francisco, so well that it's difficult to see him playing for another team.
Sandoval would have little trouble fitting in with another team, especially the Dodgers, with the large Latino population in L.A. But there's no question he's immensely popular with Giants fans. The first sign was the early tag of Kung Fu Panda. So, it would be a real wrench for Giants fans to see Sandoval in another uniform, especially if it's a Dodgers uniform.
No matter how much they might want to keep Sandoval, there's no way the Giants can compete financially with the Dodgers. So, the negotiations will probably depend on what Sandoval wants.
Agents always go for the top offer because that's how they define their goals. If players feel strongly that they want to play for a team which does not make the best offer, they have to let their agent know.
Because relatively few players are free agents at any one time, salaries are artificially inflated. If he chooses, Sandoval could benefit from that by going for the highest salary. Or, he could tell his agent he wants to stay where he's loved. The Giants can only hope he makes the second decision.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.