SAN FRANCISCO — The Red Sox can’t sign Pablo Sandoval fast enough.
Truly. John, Tom, and Larry need to bring the Kung Fu Panda to Fenway Park. I promise never to rip Sandoval for being out of shape or going on the disabled list.
It makes perfect sense if you think about it. The Red Sox have a gaping hole at third base and no one fills up an empty space better than the Vince Wilfork-esque, free agent, tons-of-fun Panda. And because of the Sox’ horrible record in 2014, their first-round draft pick next year is protected.
What’s not to love about Sandoval? The guy is a switch-hitter, a two-time All- Star, and is nominated for a Gold Glove this season. He’s only 28 and he’s clutch. Maybe you forgot that night two years ago when he hit three homers in a World Series game against the Detroit Tigers. Sandoval was MVP of the Giants’ Series sweep that year.
Panda’s been just as good in the big moments this year. When the Giants were on the ropes against Washington in Game 2 of the NLDS, it was Sandoval who slashed a tying RBI double down the left-field line against Nationals reliever Drew Storen. He kept it going through the NLCS against the Cardinals and now into the World Series. An 0-for-4 night in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Royals in Game 3 ended the Panda’s postseason on-base streak at 25 games.
Oh, and did I mention . . . he is a free agent.
No doubt John Henry and Co. will have some concerns about Sandoval’s weight. He doesn’t look like a guy who’s going to have a 20-year big league career. We all saw what happened to Mo Vaughn once he got the big money and went to the Angels.
But the Panda is a legitimate hacker. Better from the left side than the right (.317 vs. .199 this year), he reminds me a little of Wade Boggs the way he takes the outside pitch to left field. He has tremendous plate coverage, if not great dinner plate discipline. Built for slow-pitch, Sandoval feasts on fastballs.
He even has his own fan club. The nickname came from former teammate Barry Zito and it is just about perfect. Giants home games are Panda festivals. Everybody is Kung Fu Fighting. Four folks holding Giant Panda heads sit in the first row behind the third base on-deck railing at every Giants game, but they are very respectful of folks who sit behind them. They store their radar-dish-sized Panda heads in their laps or on the ground unless the Panda is batting. When Sandoval approaches the plate, the heads go on. When he is done, the heads are removed. If only flyers in coach class were so kind about reclining their airline seats.
Sandoval presents great marketing opportunities for the cash-craving Red Sox. The Giants make a killing on souvenir Panda headgear and Chairman Tom no doubt could develop some nifty NESN programming about a big-budget third baseman with a big belly (perhaps he could wrestle the giant Bruins bear from the commercials). Jenny Johnson, meet Son of Guapo. Sandoval has said he likes Boston and I’m guessing David Ortiz would love to have Sandoval in the Sox lineup. Papi and the Panda had a conversation when Ortiz was in Kansas City working the World Series for Fox. Sandoval could fill the Sox’ DH role when Ortiz eventually retires.
Built like a modern-day Bambino, Sandoval was born in Venezuela, son of a food manager, the youngest of four boys. He has a scar over one eye from an encounter with a Doberman when he was young. He signed with the Giants when he was 16 years old and broke into the big leagues at the end of the 2008 season. He hit .330 in 153 games a year later and played 152 games the following season before succumbing to injuries and falling into Bruce Bochy’s doghouse. This season, Sandoval’s walk year, he played in 157 games, hitting .279 with an OPS of .739.
His physique masks his amazing athleticism. The Panda is ambidextrous and able to throw from the left side harder than Jamie Moyer. He’s Bochy’s emergency third-string catcher. He is reknown for tape-measure homers in the Venezuelan World Series.
He is peaking at the right moment. During his 25-game postseason streak (dating to October 10, 2012), he hit .381 with 10 doubles, 6 homers, 16 RBIs, and 7 walks. Call me crazy, but at this hour, he seems like like a better option than Will Middlebrooks.
Here in the Bay Area, some folks believe the Giants will draw a line at three years on Sandoval. It’s probably going to take five years and close to $100 million to land him.
The Sox can do that. They should do that. Sign the Panda a week after this World Series ends.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com.