Thousands of Giants fans predicted this. “He’ll get even fatter after getting paid, and the East Coast media will eat him alive,” they said. I thought this was probably the likely scenario, but something about Sandoval’s personality and game told me that he’d be a huge hit in Boston.
I figured the spotlight wouldn’t bother him, seeing as he put up a .426/.460/.702 World Series slash line for the Giants. He’s more than capable of hitting ropes off the Green Monster from either side. And finally, the combination of Sandoval and David Ortiz (as well as Hanley Ramirez, albeit to a lesser extent) seemed like it might shatter all modern baseball records for swagger. Which, as we all know, are currently held by Barry Bonds.
Instead, Sandoval put forth the worst year of his career.
“Actually, he had the worst season of any major leaguer,” wrote Fangraphs.
OK, we’ll go with that.
He pretty much abandoned switch-hitting over the last four months of the season. His offensive numbers were down across the board, in large part because he finished with a .465 OPS against lefties. His defense, which was incredible in 2011 and quite good in 2014, was abysmal in 2015.
Players can regress, but this was nothing short of an implosion. And Sandoval didn’t do anything to win even a little sympathy.
February 2015: Red Sox Nation found out what the Giants and their fans got to experience nearly every Spring over the previous five years.
Pablo certainly didn’t go hungry this offseason. pic.twitter.com/P1PrK1TZLN
— Baseball Swag™ (@Baseballswag_) February 17, 2015
March 2015: Sandoval could’ve taken the high road, but instead …
Leaving the Giants?
“Not hard at all,” Pablo Sandoval told Bleacher Report during an early-morning conversation here the other day. “If you want me around, you make the effort to push and get me back.”
March 2015: Sandoval did another bridge-burning interview, this time with USA Today’s Jorge Ortiz.
Sandoval acknowledged he was irritated by what he considered the Giants’ harping on his weight, which tended to increase significantly during the season, hampering his defensive range. He pointed out the Red Sox have hired a nutritionist and he’s trying to pay heed, but conceded the results don’t show so far. He wouldn’t reveal where the scales stop, saying simply he’s comfortable at his current weight.
Sandoval is pleased the Red Sox have not made an issue of his weight, and they smartly refrained from bringing up the topic while pursuing him in the offseason.
However, Sandoval’s less-than-svelte physique has already created consternation among New England fans, as an unflattering photo early in camp showed him sporting a significant gut.
“I’m a professional and I know what I have to do,” said Sandoval, listed as 5-11 and 255. “I know where I’ve failed and how I’ve grown up. If I had signed (with the Giants), I knew I would be under a (weight) regimen for five years, and I’m not going to be happy someplace where I’m under that kind of regimen, where I can’t be myself.”
May 2015: Sandoval goes on CSN Bay Area and effectively says the same thing he did to USA Today.
Amy G: You made a comment that when you went to Boston, you felt at home. Did you not feel at home in San Francisco, or did you at one point feel at home in your seven-year stretch, and then you needed a different scenario?
Sandoval: I felt at home here. In San Francisco I will always feel at home, because this is the team that gave me the opportunity. But at the end of the year, it was tough. It was tough because when I came here, I just want to play ball. I just want to be me. And at the end of the year, of my career here, I can’t be me. So it was tough.
Amy G: Did you feel that you were not treated with respect last year?
Sandoval: Do you want me to tell you the truth?
Amy G: I do.
Sandoval: Yeah. I feel like that.
Amy G: Why?
Sandoval: Something. Things happened. A lot of things. I know they want me to be the best, they want me to be healthy, all the kind of comments they say. But at the end of the day, when you are a person and employer, you can come to me and tell me you have to do this. You don’t have to come straight up to the media, be public, say everything that you say.
June 2015: Sandoval was benched for a game. Here’s why.
Not to blow up the dude’s spot, but uh…is Pablo Sandoval on Instagram during the game? pic.twitter.com/q8X4HoFDOT
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) June 18, 2015
July 2015: The Boston media engaged in a week-long roast of Sandoval leading up to the trade deadline. I doubt it was planned, either. They had given him a few months to show he was worth the five-year, $95 million contract he signed back in November, and he was awful. Here’s a sampling of tweets/insults.
For the record: There is nothing in Sandoval’s contract that prohibits him from occasionally stopping a ball down the line
— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) July 29, 2015
Intentionally walking Pablo Sandoval? Didn’t Brad Ausmus go to Dartmouth?
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) July 27, 2015
This close to trade deadline, a player coming out of game in 6th like Pablo typically means a trade. Let me know when you stop laughing
— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) July 30, 2015
Sandoval out due to dehydration. This is not a joke. This was announced in pressbox
— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) July 30, 2015
Things slowed down after that, as the Red Sox were out of the AL East race and Sandoval only played 11 games in September.
At the end of the 2015 season, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and the Boston Red Sox coaching staff told both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval an exact amount of weight to lose before spring training 2016.
Ramirez was told to lose 15-20 pounds. The exact number of pounds the team told Sandoval to lose is unknown.
Manager John Farrell has visited with both players recently.
“Physically, they look great,” Farrell said at the Boston Baseball Writers Award Dinner media session here at Boston Marriott Copley Place on Thursday. “There were clear markers set out before the season was over on what their goals were going to be. And both players look to be at that target. Hanley I think right now is down to 234 (pounds), which is quite a bit down from where he finished the season at. I think Panda probably dropped 20-22 pounds since the last game he’s played for us. They’re doing what’s in their control to start spring training and get themselves in a position to have a solid year.”
February 2016: Sandoval doesn’t remember any specific instructions, and the same goes for Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski. But even though manager John Farrell and Dombrowski said they were happy with how Sandoval looked in his first workout of the Spring, all anyone could talk about was this.
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) February 21, 2016
Sandoval also told reporters that he had nothing to prove after last season. Farrell clarified what Sandoval meant — supposedly he doesn’t have anything to prove to the media. “He knows he has something to prove to his teammates and he wants to do that. [Sunday] was unfortunate, but we have to move on from that. We had a good talk.”
It’s doubtful that will pacify Red Sox fans, who have to be wondering why their team offered Sandoval such a lucrative contract without including a weight clause. If that was what swayed Sandoval to switch leagues and coasts, wasn’t that a bad sign?
I understand that many Giants fans are tired of the “fat shaming” that seems to follow Sandoval, and want to continue rooting for him because he was a postseason hero who earned 20.8 WAR in six-plus seasons with the the Giants. However, I contend that Sandoval’s true colors are showing, and have been on full display since last February. Check that — they’ve been on display throughout his Giants career, with all of the “Camp Panda” talk and his own admission that he felt no urgent need to slim down until his contract year. I thought he’d leave San Francisco throughout the 2014 season after extension talks broke down and Sandoval’s agent complained to any reporter within earshot. After the season I was swayed into thinking there was an opening for his return, based on his postseason performance and Hunter Pence vouching for him so vociferously during the parade. However, it’s now clear that the Giants were tremendously lucky on the day that Sandoval chose to sign with Boston, and the fans who predicted his demise due to weight struggles and a far nastier press corps were right on target.