Pablo Sandoval rode the parade route down Market Street on Friday aboard an open double-decker bus, being soaked by rain and the cheers of Giants fans, many wearing the fuzzy Panda hats with ears the third baseman has turned into a fashion statement around AT&T Park.
Now the question is where this offseason will lead him.
“I’d love to be back here,” Sandoval said minutes after the parade reached City Hall. “I love the fans, I love my teammates … it’s a family.”
But where families are tied together by blood, it may take more to keep Sandoval in orange and black. Sandoval is one of five Giants players who will become free agents next week, free to negotiate with any team when midnight hits the East Coast on Tuesday, and he figures to generate a lot of interest on the market.
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Both Sandoval and Giants brass expressed mutual interest Friday in reaching a deal. But they also acknowledged the process won’t be easy.
“I’m going to go for what my heart tells me,” Sandoval said. “The jersey I’ve been wearing, I want to wear that jersey for the rest of my career. But it’s going to take some time to make that decision. I just want to make sure to do the right thing.”
Giants president and CEO Larry Baer pointed out the Giants have a track record of keeping their players. They signed Madison Bumgarner to a long-term contract in spring 2012 and Buster Posey in spring 2013, well before either young star hit free agency. They also hustled to lock up Hunter Pence with an extension in the final week of the regular season last year before Pence hit the open market.
This offseason, Baer said: “We’re going to do anything possible to keep it together the best we can. Literally, when the last shot of confetti goes off, we’re going to be hunkered down. I think the fans believe we have a good track record along those lines and we’ve always sort of stayed pretty consistent in the approach.”
Along with Sandoval, starting pitchers Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, reliever Sergio Romo and outfielder Michael Morse will become free agents. But the 28-year-old Sandoval will command the most interest in a light market for third basemen, and following another strong postseason in which he set a major-league record with 26 hits.
“Pablo’s a huge part of the family,” Baer said. “So we’ve had conversations with him before the season; we’ll now have conversations after the season. And we’ll see. We always are optimistic. We’ve heard nothing or seen anything that dissuades us from pursuing it. I can’t tell you where it’s going to go, because we haven’t started.”
Sandoval batted .279 during the regular season with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs, and was named a Gold Glove finalist for his defense. He then turned in another strong October, batting .366 and reaching base all four times in Game 7 of the World Series, scoring two runs in the Giants’ 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals. Sandoval is a career .426 hitter in 12 World Series games, the third-highest average of any player with 40 or more at-bats.
“I love being here,” Sandoval said. “I love the way they keep all these guys, keep the team, 25 guys together.”
Does he love it enough to consider less money to stay in San Francisco? Sandoval said he did not want to discuss the dollar figure or length he’s looking for in a contract.
Baer, meanwhile, said that while the Giants’ payroll will see an increase this offseason, it won’t be a drastic one.
“We’re not going to do something crazy after winning the World Series, just like we didn’t do anything crazy when we were out of the playoffs, either,” Baer said.
The Giants have half the starting rotation they used in the playoffs headed for free agency in Peavy and Vogelsong, and there are other question marks in the rotation with Matt Cain coming back from elbow surgery and Tim Lincecum’s status uncertain. Romo, meanwhile, pitched well as a set-up man after being removed from the closer role at midseason.
Morse missed September with an oblique injury but returned to contribute several big hits in the postseason. Baer said he expects negotiations with each player to follow different time lines.
Vogelsong, who has enjoyed a late-career resurgence since returning to the Giants in 2012, said he hopes to return. “Where else would I rather be?” he said.
“They’ve got priorities before me,” Vogelsong added, “things to take care of before me. That’s fine. I understand that. Whenever they get to me, they get to me.”
Presumably, Vogelsong was referencing Sandoval, one of eight players to win three rings with the Giants. After securing the third on Wednesday, manager Bruce Bochy said he hopes to be writing Sandoval’s name into his lineup card next April.
“You could see a difference in Pablo once his postseason started,” Bochy said. “His focus, his third-base play was as good as I’ve seen from any third baseman. That’s what I’m proud of about him, is how he made himself such a good defender.
“As far as what happens, I don’t know. It’s obvious I love this kid, too. I’ve had him since he came up, and hopefully something gets done, but these are things that take care of themselves in the winter.”
After the parade had reached the Civic Center, the Giants took to the stage at City Hall, with several taking the microphone to give speeches. The last was Pence, who led the crowd in a series of the team’s signature “Yes!” chants.
For one of the last, Pence asked: “Re-sign Pablo?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“We need about five more for that,” Pence said.