The Pablo Sandoval-and-the-Giants reunion tour arrives at Raley Field on Tuesday, the latest stop for this most improbable of engagements.
Giants fans might remember Sandoval as the buoyant, free-swinging third baseman who was a key part of three World Series titles. They might also remember how, after winning a championship in 2014, Sandoval left to sign a huge free-agent deal with the Boston Red Sox – and criticized his former organization on his way out the door.
Sandoval washed out in Boston. In 161 games over three injury-riddled seasons, he hit just .237 with 14 home runs. On July 14, the Red Sox designated Sandoval for assignment despite still owing him nearly half of his five-year, $95 million contract.
As it turns out, though, Sandoval had only singed his bridge to San Francisco, not burned it. The Giants on July 22 signed Sandoval to a minor-league contract, adding a layer of drama – or, depending on your point of view, farce – to an already lost season.
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Act of desperation or low-risk gamble? Shot at redemption or sad coda to past glory for both sides? However you see the move, here are five reasons to watch Sandoval when he puts on a River Cats uniform for the first time Tuesday night:
1. You’re feeling nostalgic
Regardless of what came later, Sandoval was part of some indelible moments in the Giants’ success earlier this decade. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 2012 Series, after hitting three home runs in Game 1 at AT&T Park. He caught the last out of the 2014 Series, falling to his back on the grass, arms extended in celebration.
Sandoval was also a fan favorite during his seven seasons in San Francisco. And Giants fans in recent years have shown they stand by their own – almost to a fault. They stood for Tim Lincecum when he struggled. They cheered Matt Cain as his performance worsened. Tuesday gives local fans another opportunity to show appreciation for Sandoval – if it has endured.
2. You’re curious if he can make contact
Sandoval hit .294 in seven seasons with the Giants, despite bouts of inconsistency and weight issues. He did not come close to that in Boston, where his defense was also suspect and his weight a recurring issue. He missed most of 2016 with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
The Red Sox essentially decided to pay Sandoval not to play for them, which raises some questions. What if anything does Sandoval, who turns 31 next month, have left to offer a major league team? Bay Area reports last weekend described Sandoval as “svelte,” but can he stay that way? Is he still a switch-hitter? Do the Giants even have a place for him? The answers won’t come from one game, but it could offer some hints.
3. You’re holding a grudge
Sandoval didn’t exactly endear himself to the Giants by how he handled his exit in 2014. He turned down a contract offer from the Giants that reportedly was similar to Boston’s (and which he now says he should have taken). He said the Giants disrespected his agent. He said the only people in the clubhouse he would miss were manager Bruce Bochy and right fielder Hunter Pence.
The Giants, apparently, did not hold those words against Sandoval. (They also issued a statement from Sandoval after re-signing him in which he said those comments “were emotional, insensitive and misguided.”) But some fans may be slower to forgive. And if you fall into that category, Tuesday is a chance to express your displeasure in person.
4. You’re a sucker for redemption stories
Addressing Bay Area reporters over the weekend, Sandoval said he “learned my lesson” and appreciates a “second chance.” He signed a minor league deal with no guarantee (publicly, anyway) that he’ll get a shot at the majors again this year. Either way, of course, he will still be well-paid by the Red Sox.
The intrigue here is whether Sandoval can show he really deserves a call-up. The Giants could have a need at third base if they trade Eduardo Nunez. Top prospect Christian Arroyo is hurt. They have other options, but if Sandoval shows something, the Giants could bring him back – and face-to-face with the city and some of the teammates he once spurned.
5. You just need to wear your Panda hat one more time
Your Panda hat may be gathering dust in a closet. It may be slung over a car headrest or pulled over the head of a golf club. You may look at it sometimes and think there would be nothing more comfortable to wear on a 90-degree day. This is your chance.