Obviously the San Francisco Giants have moved on, as have most fans. But it is important to understand the dynamics of what the decision that Pablo Sandoval made prior to last season, and what it means to the players as well as baseball as a whole.
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The one who became known as the lovable Panda in San Francisco was on top of the world. Flying high from a third championship, and ready to cash in on the brand that the fans had helped build for him. But a few things got in the way of the continuation of the legacy that he had been building up to that point, most importantly pride.
Having been told continuously that his weight needed to be kept under control by the Giants, the Panda had grown tired of his employer demanding that he keep his weight under control. His ability to hit the ball aside, a team is not going to willingly invest long-term on a player they believe will break down during that contract. Even if the Giants came close to the five-year $95 million deal that he signed with the Boston Red Sox, they would have still been on him about staying in shape.
The Red Sox on the other hand told him all the right things. “Don’t worry Panda, you can play at any weight” was probably one of the selling points to coming to Boston. Cool, Sandoval probably thought, no more front office pressure.
But here’s where the Panda found out that the grass isn’t greener at Fenway Park. There was a change in regime, and the new bosses weren’t having any of it.
Sandoval played his cards the way he and his advisers wanted to. He claimed that he was “looking for something new” at the time. Well he most definitely got something he wasn’t expecting, and neither were the Red Sox fans. And his reaction to the decision by manager John Farrell to start Travis Shaw at third base to start the season is even more bewildering.
“It’s going to be difficult, but I have to be happy,” Sandoval said. “[Shaw] did a great job. He’s had a fantastic spring. It was going to be a tough battle. There’s nothing easy.”
I have to be happy? Is it because the money is already in the bank? I just don’t see that same hunger. Well, maybe I do, just not on the field.
The Panda that played at AT&T Park loved playing so much that a smile was immediately on his face once he pulled the uniform on. His huge grin was present almost every second he was out on the field. But this Sandoval is a little different. His play on the field has suffered due to his lack of focus on conditioning. This isn’t a surprise, of course, but when you sign a contract that puts you with the elite in your field, you must respect your employers and do whatever it takes to live up to expectations.
The Giants saw in the Panda what he could do in the postseason. He was a very good player when the big lights came on. But during the season, there were stretches where Sandoval was lost at the plate. Not that weight had everything to do with that, but his endurance seemed to slow down later in the season, and that was starting at a somewhat lighter weight than he is now. Think about what would have happened had he started out heavier. He would have broke down by June.
Many players have succeeded with a larger frame. Tony Gwynn wasn’t svelte, and neither was Kirby Puckett. But those guys played in the outfield which doesn’t rely so much on quick reactions and sure hands. A third baseman needs to be able to stop hot shots down the line and cut off balls to their left.
Sandoval was likely looking forward to a move to the DH, and it still could happen. But he definitely wasn’t expecting a team that invested all of that money on him to bench him on opening day in season number 2.
The rope he was given was a lot longer with the Giants. And even with the so-called badgering by the organization, Sandoval was much better off in the media-friendly area of San Francisco. He was one of the organizations own. And his decision to move on to new things has really caused his brand to take a hit.
Is he in commercials in Boston? DO they wear Panda hats all over the Park?
For the Giants sake, Matt Duffy came into the picture last year to make the Sandoval saga and all the drama surrounding it a moot point. In fact, Duffy may need to be asked to gain some weight each year since he is not the largest of individuals.
But the main problem with the entire situation is the perception that it gives to the kids out there following the game.
“Why did Kung Fu Panda leave, daddy?”
“Because he wanted a new challenge, son.”
“But he was on a team that wins championships and the fans love him to death.”
“True, but he didn’t want to be pestered about his weight.”
“So if I get a job, and my employer tells me that I need to do something that is actually good for my health, as well as good for the company in the long-term, I should leave too?”
“No, son, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”