The San Francisco Giants have made long-term commitments to Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, but an impending free agent, Pablo Sandoval, is one of the most indispensable players on the team.
When the Giants arrive for workouts at Scottsdale Stadium in Arizona, the franchise will attempt to bounce back from a disappointing 76-86 record in 2013. One year ago, spring training arrived with the Giants as defending World Series champions, but much has changed in 365 days.
One of those changes: uncertainty around Sandoval's future and his place within San Francisco's core.
After a good, not great, 2013, Sandoval enters his age-27 season one year away from a free-agent payday.
If the Giants are confident in his long-term production, it would be wise to lock him up now, before the open market can bid on his services. Although the six-year veteran has experienced both highs and lows during his career, the Giants can't afford to let Sandoval walk away next winter.
According to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area, Sandoval is as good as gone if he hits the free-agent market next winter. Citing the ability for AL teams to disregard possible future weight or defensive issues, a seven-year deal could be in order, with the end of those years coming as a designated hitter.
Per CSN Bay Area: "I think if the Giants don't extend him this spring, and he gets to free agency, he's probably in his last year as a Giant."
While risk is attached to any potential long-term deal, the positives outweigh the negatives—literally in this case—when it comes to assessing Sandoval's worth to the Giants. A career-long battle with weight and fitness has plagued the player known as "Kung Fu Panda," but he looks to be in the best shape of his life now.
Before hitting the prime of his career, San Francisco's homegrown, switch-hitting third baseman has accomplished the following: two World Series championships, a World Series MVP award and the sixth highest adjusted OPS of any third baseman in the sport since 2008.
When factoring in where Sandoval's bat plays into the long-term team-building strategy in San Francisco's organization, a long-term marriage becomes even more necessary for the franchise.
Let's break down the strengths of Sandoval and explain why he's so important to the Giants.
Sandoval's career statistics aren't just good, they're excellent. Despite a below-average season in 2010 (99 OPS+), only five third basemen have outproduced him since the 2008 season. Of that quintet, only two—Evan Longoria and David Wright—will be contributors in the big leagues in 2014.
|Best Production From MLB Third Basemen (2008-2013)|
By the end of the summer, Sandoval's status as a dependable, veteran hitter at third base might place him directly behind Longoria and Wright on that list. For a point of reference, both Longoria and Wright garnered long-term contracts of $100 million or more, per Cot's Baseball Contracts.
During the regular season, Sandoval's talent is evident. When October hits, the Giants star is an even better performer. In 89 career postseason plate appearances, Sandoval owns a .325/.360/.614 slash line. That mark, buoyed by a World Series MVP performance in 2012, is a big reason why the Giants have captured a pair of titles in Sandoval's career.
Succeeding in October is a basic tenet for any team, but even more so for San Francisco. After building AT&T Park in 2000, the Giants transformed into a franchise built on pitching and winning low-scoring games. Led by Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, it's how the Giants won it all in 2010 and 2012. If they win again in the near future, it will be the formula used again.
With that, a major responsibility is placed on the few offensive standouts on the team. In 2010, Buster Posey carried the team home to a title. In 2012, it was Sandoval's turn. In the future, the Giants will need a hitter to do the damage in October. With Sandoval, that ability is evident.
Clearly, Sandoval has been a major part of the recent past in San Francisco. His 2014, if the contract-year status or offseason workout regimen play a big role, will be a boon to their present. The future, however, is murky without his name inserted into the everyday lineup.
As noted earlier, the Giants have made recent long-term commitments to both Pence and Posey. With Brandon Belt on the path to stardom, San Francisco has three core hitters to build around in 2014 and beyond. Of course, three is far from eight.
A quick look at MLB Depth Charts gives a glimpse into the future of San Francisco's roster: pitching, pitching and more pitching.
According to that roster breakdown, nine of the 10 best prospects in San Francisco's system are pitchers. The only position player of the group: C/1B Andrew Susac.
Unless a swift shift to third base awaits Susac when he arrives in Arizona in February, the Giants don't have anything close to a replacement ready for Sandoval. Furthermore, they don't have highly touted hitters littered throughout the system.
Sure, trades can be commenced and lower-rated prospects could emerge in the future. Yet, on the surface, the names Posey, Pence, Belt and Sandoval don't just represent the core of the Giants right now, they represent the middle of Bruce Bochy's order for 2015, 2016 and beyond.
When breaking down Sandoval's career, accomplishments, age and place within the Giants' roster, the team has little choice but to keep him for the long haul. If a contract can be secured soon, a major piece of San Francisco's franchise will be kept away from the dangerous waters of free agency.
Your turn to play GM: Would you re-sign Sandoval before the season starts?
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