Marcos Bretón

Opinion: Giants hold no grudge, anger toward Sandoval as team begins life after Panda

San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) celebrates with teammates after winning the World Series in Game 7 of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO. on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014.
San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) celebrates with teammates after winning the World Series in Game 7 of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO. on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Now that Pablo Sandoval, the beloved “Kung Fu Panda,” has exercised his right to leave the Giants and join the Boston Red Sox as a free agent, the whys and the hows are irrelevant.

There can be no ill feelings between a wildly successful franchise and a player as beloved as any – a sweet, funny, goofy and exasperating guy, and an amazing talent who was a force for good on the Giants even when he was bad.

“We should honor Pablo,” said Giants CEO Larry Baer on Monday. “He was a great player for us.”

Adios, Panda.

It was fun from the first eye-ball-high pitch he slashed for a double to the opposite field to his semi-balletic belly flops at third base to his pulling-a-freight-train dashes toward the plate that sometimes ended tragicomically but never bitterly.

Sandoval’s signature moments – World Series MVP in 2012 and continued heroics in the 2014 World Series, culminating with his exultant catch of the final out – won’t soon be forgotten. But what will endure more than anything is Sandoval’s smile and his zest for the game that he was happy to share from his first season in 2008 after swinging to the big leagues from his native Venezuela.

Who else but Sandoval could inspire adults to don ridiculous panda hats in all types of weather, all over the country? There is simply no place for anger in this story.

It’s true that the Giants are left with a practical dilemma of filling the 28-year-old Sandoval’s spot at third base with no certain candidates. That’s no little thing, and the Giants are likely steamed that Sandoval’s representatives were so haphazard to barely notify them of Sandoval’s departure after the entire baseball world already knew.

But what matters now is this: What are the Giants going to do?

First, don’t trust any declarative statement made today about what Sandoval’s move will mean for the Red Sox and the Giants tomorrow.

Baseball makes fools of those who make rash predictions, such as all the experts predicting at the trade deadline last summer that the A’s and Detroit Tigers were assured of a duel in the American League Championship Series after both stocked up on marquee pitchers.

How did that work out?

How have the St. Louis Cardinals done since Albert Pujols – the most impactful Cardinals position player since Stan Musial – chased the money to Anaheim?

The Cardinals kept right on rolling, reaching a World Series and two consecutive National League Championship Series. Pujols hasn’t fared as well.

This list goes on and on of name free agents who made big headlines on slow news days in the dead of late fall and winter when they signed their big deals. But how have those stories panned out?

The headline for excess spending in baseball could read like this: great personal wealth for the players, few World Series rings for the teams that sign them.

Baseball Prospectus compiles a list of the most lucrative deals in baseball, and only three players in the top 12 have won rings after cashing in – Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. All won a single title with the New York Yankees in 2009, and it’s been downhill since. After that, roughly 40 players have signed $100 million contracts like Sandoval. How many have won rings? CC Sabathia with the aforementioned Yankees and Buster Posey, Barry Zito and Matt Cain with the Giants. There was also Dustin Pedroia with the Red Sox and not much else but Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki, Masahiro Tanaka, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Miguel Cabrera and a whole bunch of other guys largely paid for what they were and not what they are.

The Giants were willing to go five years and at least $95 million for Sandoval, but their caution to go any higher is understandable given how many of baseball richest players have fallen short after cashing in. In the end, Sandoval chose a new challenge in a new city – as is his right.

So what now?

Baer said the Giants will look at a variety of options. Chase Headley is the best known third baseman on the free-agent market, but Baer cautioned against a “third baseman for third baseman” replacement.

“We’re set to make a lot of moves,” Baer said. One option could be a middle-of-the-order hitter to offset Sandoval’s production, even if said player isn’t a third baseman.

“We’re also going to look at starting pitching,” Baer said. The Giants won’t discuss names, but one of the top ts free-agent pitchers is Jon Lester, who finished last season in Oakland.

Baer said the Giants intend to spend the roughly $95 million they would have committed to Sandoval. They will look closely at their other free agents – pitchers Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo and Ryan Vogelsong and left fielder Michael Morse.

Despite losing the first free agent they truly wanted to keep in a long while, the Giants are not conceding anything, Baer said.

“I believe in my bones that we will be a better team (in 2015),” he said.

Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.

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