If Pablo Sandoval were a boxer or mixed martial artist, we’d know exactly how much he weighed, instead of only when he wants us to know. But we all know the Panda’s a lover and not a fighter, so all we have is photographic and anecdotal evidence, which isn’t really evidence at all.

Hardball Talk went with the photograph method:

April 23 against the Atlanta Braves

September 12 against the San Diego Padres

Definitely a little chubbier. Same can of chewing tobacco* in the back pocket, though. Good to see that no matter how much he weighs, Sandoval is loyal to his chosen method of nicotine intake.

(*I don’t have kids yet, but whenever that happens I figure it’s going to be shocking to them to hear that athletes used to openly use tobacco while on the field and in the dugout. One has to imagine it’s going to be banned from MLB by the time my kids are born and get old enough to know what baseball is. It’s already against the rules in the Minors, so it’s only a matter of time.)

As for anecdotal, Sandoval spends most of his time in the clubhouse shirtless, and while he doesn’t look as lean as he did when he took this picture…

 

 

…he definitely doesn’t look almost morbidly obese — like he appeared at the end of last season.

It’s clear Sandoval will always have a rounder figure than most professional athletes, and for the most part it hasn’t really affected his play — other than near the end of last year when he could barely move or throw across his body. But mostly, he’s been pretty nimble for a guy with his waistline. This year, his range at third base has been outstanding. Better than anyone else in baseball, one could argue. Actually, Fangraphs DOES argue exactly that with their mysterious range stats which, for the purposes of this post, are irrefutable.

And just tonight, Sandoval has made two sparkling defensive plays, one running in and to his left where he barehanded a slow dribbler and threw out Jesus Guzman, and a backhanded stop and putout at second base that many third basemen would have botched. He’s also 3-for-4 through the 7th inning (when I ran this post).

Still, Pablo has definitely gained a little weight after losing 40 pounds. Is this a red flag? YES and NO.

YES

– The Giants have a logjam at first base, meaning that Sandoval either needs to maintain decent enough shape to stay at the hot corner or they’ll have to trade him or someone else.

– Gaining the weight back would signify that he either has a problem controlling himself or decided to let himself go after a very successful 2011.

– Sandoval’s arbitration-eligible after this season, and his career numbers mean he’ll be in line for a major raise. If his weight is a question mark, the chances that the Giants will want to sign him to a multi-year extension are slim (no pun intended).

– If all the Giants start taking their animal nicknames this seriously, Brandon Belt’s going to start putting those gold rings around his neck like this woman.

NO

– You don’t lose 40+ pounds over a three month span (or whatever) and keep every pound off for the next six months. Drastic weight loss like Sandoval’s is almost always met with a little regression to the mean.

– If he has gained a significant amount of weight back this season, it hasn’t manifested in decreased production. His fielding hasn’t noticeably dropped off, and he’s actually been a better hitter since the All-Star Break (.298/.349/.529 before Tuesday night’s game) than before (.303/.341/.503). And this was all about production last year. The Giants wouldn’t have made a peep if Fat Ichiro banged out a .300 average with 20 homers last year and wasn’t supplanted at third base during the postseason by Juan Uribe (who isn’t exactly Eugenio Velez himself).

– It’s baseball. Fat baseball players have been great throughout history, and the Giants could use a fat guy just for Jaworskis and giggles. You know you loved it when Rick Reuschel and Don Robinson looked like they spent the previous night polishing off a keg and 40 bratwursts apiece. Most of the Giants are in great shape. Mike Fontenot could kick all our asses with ease; the guy’s actually pretty huge for being so small. But Prince Fielder and CC Sabathia, those guys aren’t suffering because there’s some gut hanging over their belts. While more athleticism would be nice, the Giants could stand to have a rotund third baseman as long as he’s raking.

Bottom Line: The Giants are going to encourage Sandoval to pick up his off-season conditioning where he left off in March after this season’s over, and I’m guessing Sandoval will oblige. He hasn’t gained ALL the weight back this year, and he’s still in line for three years of arbitration before hitting the market. The Giants aren’t going to trade him, because he was their best hitter in 2011 and they probably wouldn’t get fair value back. If the Panda wants to become a multi-millionaire, it’s up to him. If he doesn’t want it badly enough, the Giants will figure out a way to get by without him … and all that merchandise he sells.