Why 2014 Could Be Pablo Sandoval’s Final Season in a San Francisco Giants Uniform

Pablo Sandoval

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco Giants Pablo Sandoval has reportedly lost more than 40 pounds this offseason in preparation for the most vital season of his big league career. Sandoval is a key proponent of the Giants’ offense, but his numbers have been in decline over the past two seasons. As free agency looms large for the formerly hefty third baseman, Sandoval is on the brink of a make-or-break season.

General manager Brian Sabean previously alluded to potentially negotiating a contract extension with Sandoval if he was able to show up to camp in shape this spring. The latter appears to be a given considering recent reports regarding Sandoval’s winter training regimen in Venezuela. Re-signing Sandoval to a long-term contract is entirely unreasonable at this juncture for the Giants, though.

San Francisco is currently undergoing the arbitration process with franchise cornerstone Brandon Belt who the Giants perceive as a staple of their future. Belt owns super-two status which means he became arbitration eligible before reaching three full seasons of big league experience. The Giants could be inclined to grant Belt a long-term extension.

In fact, the only logical reason for the Giants not to lockup Belt for the foreseeable future would be if front office personnel feels he could net the organization big-league ready prospects via trade. But the Giants are hopeful contenders this season. Failing to negotiate a long-term contract with Belt before camp would signify a disconnect between what the Giants seemingly want to accomplish now and what the front office brass believes the 2014 squad is actually capable of.

Belt’s contract situation weighs heavy on Sandoval who could become the odd man out at the conclusion of the 2014 campaign. The Giants have already dished out big money and long-term commitments to several players, including Angel Pagan (three years, $33 million), Buster Posey (eight years, $164 million) , Hunter Pence (five years, $90 million) and Matt Cain (four years, $92.5 million). Adding Belt to the equation would push the Giants over $400 million in guaranteed money for five players over the next eight seasons.

Long-term payroll commitments arguably shouldn’t be an issue for the Giants, though. After all, they’ve sold out 246 consecutive regular season games while playing in a major market and have won two championships over the past four seasons. Why would money be a problem?

In reality, money isn’t the issue; it’s time. It wouldn’t be economically responsible for the Giants to essentially make additional long-term commitments. The Giants won just 76 games in 2013. Sandoval posted a seemingly decent batting line on the surface (.278/.341/.417) but has consistently failed to reach his full potential.

It’s true that Sandoval has enormous room for growth even at the age of 27. It’s undeniable that he registered one of the greatest performances in the history of baseball, smashing three home runs in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series to tie a famed record. His career .827 OPS is enough to make GMs around the league drool over meshing his bat into their respective lineups. He’s also a great guy to have in the clubhouse, boasting a lovable personality that is both marketable and fun to watch.

Sandoval possesses a ton of value, a number that will equate to big-time dollar signs come season’s end. He’s taken serious strides toward making 2014 the best season he’s ever had while doing it in the first “contract year” of his big league career.

According to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area (via Yahoo! SportsTalk Live), 2014 is probably Sandoval’s last season in a Giants uniform if an extension isn’t reached this spring.

Sandoval will probably be a popular commodity next offseason, especially if he posts big numbers in 2014. The Giants’ pockets are certainly deep enough to extend Sandoval, but the idea of committing more time to another existing player could lead them to move in a slimmed down direction.

John Shea is a San Francisco Giants writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cutthroatpicks. “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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