His manager and baseball father is gone. As are the loose bodies that had bothered his elbow. Finished, too, is the Tommy John surgery that wiped away the finale of his comeback 2019 season and hurled him into the unknown for 2020.
There are so many possibilities for Pablo Sandoval: He may have taken his last swing as a Giant — perhaps as a major leaguer. He also might bounce back nicely — he’s done it before — and be a useful piece for an American League squad next season. He also might get what he wants: to return and eventually finish his career as a Giant.
There are so many mysteries concerning whom the Giants bring back next season, but Sandoval stands out as perhaps the biggest unknown because of how much hinges on his hinge.
Sandoval is 33, a 12-year veteran, who could have exited the league after he bombed out with Boston in 2017. But the Giants were open to a reunion, and after one and a half middling seasons, the switch-hitter and corner infielder this season reminded of his two-All-Star and October-hero resume.
Despite receiving just 296 plate appearances, relied more upon as a pinch-hitter than everyday man, Sandoval’s 1.0 WAR (via Fangraphs) was sixth best among Giants hitters. For a team that did not hit home runs, Sandoval hit 14 of them, slashing .268/.313/.507, which was weighted down by his late-season swoon when his right elbow began hampering him. For a team that did not hit at home, Sandoval hit at Oracle Park as he always has, his home/road splits near equal while being shoehorned in on defense wherever the Giants could use him.
Playing for Bruce Bochy, his favorite manager, Sandoval was happy until his elbow wasn’t. On Aug. 24, the Giants announced he would need Tommy John surgery, and no one can know how he’ll recover. Upon getting the diagnosis, he reached out to fellow Venezuelan Salvador Perez, the Royals catcher who missed the entire campaign following the same surgery. Sandoval wanted answers. He did not and does not know what’s next or with what team the “next” will be happening.
Of course, he has his preferences.
“I want to be back,” Sandoval said before the Giants’ final game of the season. “I want to retire with this organization. I’d love to be back with my teammates. We had a lot of fun.”
At the time, Sandoval did not have a training calendar as he recovers; Tommy John is more individualized, and it will be more about how he feels than when he’s supposed to be throwing.
But he said he did not expect to be throwing at the start of spring training, though hoped he would be by the end of it.
Sandoval’s value shrinks considerably if he’s solely a pinch-hitter and first baseman. He played in 45 games at third last season, and if his arm is not ready or reliable for an extended period into the season, an American League team, with whom he can DH, makes a lot more sense.
There will not be a long line of teams clamoring for his services, especially because of the uncertainty of an older player undergoing such a procedure. And while he proved he’s still a solid hitter, he doesn’t have the bat he once did, one that teams would clear space for. He’s also never proven he can produce while not wearing a Giants uniform.
There were tears in his eyes after his goodbye at-bat in September, when Bochy wanted one more pinch-hit. He knew that might be it for his time in San Francisco — at the very least.
This offseason, there might not be a perfect fit, which makes him an especially difficult free agent to pin down.