Pablo Sandoval is close to returning to the Giants, but the question is: What will the Giants be getting?
There have been many reports that Sandoval has resorted to his normal diet: See food, eat food. And it isn’t celery he’s eating.
In addition, there’s an ongoing investigation into an accusation of sexual assault. There’s been no indication yet whether charges will be filed but it’s just another example of Sandoval’s undisciplined lifestyle.
There is no question the Giants need Sandoval because he actually hits home runs, a foreign concept to most Giants hitters, who just ended a stretch of 289 homerless at-bats. His place at third base has been taken by Joaquin Arias, who is a marvelous fielder but basically a backup infielder. I’ve seen hundreds of players like him over the years, great for limited stretches but unable to hit much when they play regularly. Arias’ average has dipped into the .230 range already.
The Giants have been, well, indulgent with Sandoval for most of his career. He’s a free-swinger, like many Hispanic players who learn early that scouts are looking for hitters, not those with high on-base percentages. Hence, the motto in the Dominican Republic: You don’t walk off the island.
Sandoval is from Venezuela, but the feeling is the same. The Giants haven’t tried to rein in his free-swinging style, though, for a very good reason: He drives pitches out of the strike zone for base hits. Changing his approach would probably be a very bad idea. Reportedly, Yogi Berra was the same kind of hitter, and he’s in the baseball Hall of Fame.
His lifestyle is a different matter. The Giants did come down on him before last season and put him on a strict eating and conditioning regime. The result was a strong 2011 season for Sandoval and a better contract.
But in the last offseason, the Giants made the mistake of thinking Sandoval had learned his lesson, and he fell back into his old habits. Perhaps the Giants need to hire somebody to personally supervise Sandoval’s eating and lifestyle, since it seems he can’t do it on his own. That would be a lot cheaper than losing him as an effective player.
The Giants need Sandoval’s hitting, and they need him at third base. And, no, moving him to first would not help because then the Giants would have that power shortage at third. The first base situation is a mess now, with Bochy trying to find playing time for Brandon Belt, Brett Pill and Aubrey Huff. What the Giants should do is release Huff and work with Belt to make him the hitter he should be. Sending him to Fresno would serve no purpose because he’s proven he can hit Triple-A pitching already.
The idea of moving Buster Posey to first is also a bad idea. Hector Sanchez has done a good job as a backup catcher, but he’s like Arias — a player who looks good in a limited role.
So, much depends on Sandoval shaping up and doing the job at third. But the Giants need to show him some tough love first.