SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Pablo Sandoval wanted to show his teammates he could trim down over the winter. More importantly, though, he wanted to show them that he grew up.
“I grew up as a person, as a human being,” he said, “to take my job seriously.”
He did not have their respect when a 76-86 season ended in September. That much was clear back then, even though the grumbling wasn’t aired publicly. Sandoval confirmed as much on Saturday when he said Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Matt Cain all confronted him late in the year and challenged him to take responsibility for himself and his career.
“People said it, my teammates said it,” Sandoval said. “Buster was one of those guys, Hunter, Cain. I put in my mind the great season in 2011. I can be that player again.”
Sandoval, who arrived heavy last spring, was supposed to boost the offense when he returned from a foot injury late last June. Instead he hit .113 in his first two weeks as the season spun away from the defending champions. The reigning World Series MVP became a major part of the problem, and although the clubhouse didn’t dissolve into public finger pointing, it came close at times.
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But Sandoval took the criticism as constructive.
“I feel blessed that a former MVP (Posey) told me that, that Hunter told me that,” Sandoval said. “I have to take it seriously because it’s not one person telling me. It’s all of my teammates telling me what kind of player I am.”
Will Sandoval remain teammates with those guys after this season? That might be the question of the spring for the Giants because the third baseman is due to hit free agency after the season. If he has the year everyone expects, the 27-year-old would command one of the richest contracts of the winter.
GM Brian Sabean said in December that he plans to broach extension talks with Sandoval this spring. CEO Larry Baer has made it a priority as well. Sandoval’s state of mind? He said exactly what you’d expect: He’ll listen. He owes the Giants that much. But he also didn’t make it sound like an extension would be a priority this spring.
“I don’t care about the contract,” Sandoval said. “I care about my team. I care about this year, to try to win a championship. … I’m going to be open. I’m not going to say no. But I want to concentrate on getting ready for the season.”
And if people say that he got in shape as part of a contract drive?
“People can say what they want,” he said.
Sandoval wouldn’t say how much weight he lost in Venezuela this winter, when he worked with Bobby Abreu’s trainer and had his brother, a culinary school graduate, prepare all his meals. But he looked like he had lost several inches off his waist, even if it wasn’t as dramatic as the transformation he made after the 2010 season.
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“I’m happy not for the weight -- for myself,” Sandoval said. “I put in my mind all the bad things people say I can’t do, all the bad comments in the media. I put it all in my mind. I can do all the things people say they can’t trust (me to do).”
I asked Sandoval how he felt the weight loss and conditioning work would most impact his game. He answered immediately: His defense. He was supposed to DH for Magallanes when he joined his hometown team for the Venezuelan League playoffs. But he wanted to see how much of a difference the offseason work would make on his range. He requested to play third base, and he did for nine games.
“And I made all the plays, after being out for two months” said Sandoval, including one lunging stop that he acknowledged wouldn’t have been possible a year ago. “So I feel great.”
He also hit .333 (12 for 36) with a home run, three doubles and seven RBIs. He drew five walks and struck out just twice. There’s no question that a healthy and productive Sandoval would make an impact in the lineup. His defense might be just as important, though.
If he can put up numbers beginning March 31, when the Giants open the season at Arizona, he won’t be able to hear any more bad comments. The ringing cash register will drown them out.
The only question now: Who will be writing the checks in 2015?
“(The Giants) opened the door for me to be in the big leagues,” Sandoval said. “We’ve got good chemistry. We’ve got a dynasty if we can keep the team together. We can win another championship for the city.”