SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The three-time World Series champion San Francisco Giants may be Buster Posey’s team, but even Posey acknowledges that they are going to look a little different without Pablo Sandoval, who defected to the Red Sox as a free agent this offseason.
“It’s fair to say it will feel different, for sure,” Posey said.
The catcher’s leadership is quiet, reserved. More by example than anything.
What was Sandoval’s?
“He was loud,” said Posey. “He was definitely loud.
“The biggest thing is to adjust now with him gone. Not only in the clubhouse, but Pablo was huge in the dugout, bringing an energy that was much needed on a daily basis.
“That’s something we’ll miss and we’ll have to collectively try to recreate that amongst ourselves. What Pablo did was important. It’s a long season, and you need that giddy-up that we always seemed to get from Pablo.”
While nobody in the Giants organization was happy with the weight controversy that followed Sandoval, nobody could deny his talent, both offensively and defensively, and that he flourished on the biggest stage, the postseason.
“I’ve seen guys come and go here over the years, but he’s different because of his personality and the kind of identity he’s taken on as a Giant,” said righthander Tim Lincecum. “Until this point, people made a connection with him and identified with him.
“He likes being that guy. He’s better when all eyes are on him. He loves the pressure cooker.
“It’s hard to lose a guy like that. His energy is unmatched. He’s a little bit different. It was his own kind of thing. He did it well. Sad to see him go, but I guess nothing surprises me anymore.”
Sandoval created excitement among the fan base. The Giants have some of the best ambience in baseball in their beautiful ballpark. It includes the in-game presentation of music, the strategic placement of the Journey song, “Lights,” and, of course, the Panda Heads sitting on the third base side.
Sandoval brought that fun element.
But for every fun moment, there was the angst over his weight.
Did it bother the players?
“I think it’s all about trying to win games,” Posey answered diplomatically. “We won three championships when Pablo was here, and that’s all that’s important. Pablo is a great player. He’s got some of the best hand-eye coordination I’ve ever seen.”
Posey knows the Giants can’t turn back the clock. What’s done is done. They replaced Sandoval with Casey McGehee, acquiring him in a deal with Miami.
McGehee can’t be expected to bring Sandoval’s magic and penchant for dramatic moments. In six seasons, McGehee has had only six postseason plate appearances, with one hit, compared with Sandoval’s .344 average and .935 OPS in 167 plate appearances.
McGehee batted .287 last season for Miami, after playing a season in Japan, and hit four homers and drove in 76 runs, with a .712 OPS. Sandoval had a .739 OPS last season.
McGehee, 32, a righthanded hitter, had his best season in 2010 with Milwaukee when he hit 23 homers and knocked in 104 runs. But he hasn’t come close to those numbers again.
“McGehee is a good professional player,” said Giants righty Jake Peavy. “Pablo is a unique individual and he was incredibly popular in San Francisco, so that’s a big loss for our fans and the city.
“It’s always tough to be on a championship team and then lose a mainstay like that, a guy who, as we know, comes up big at the biggest time.
“I know from 2013 in Boston that things can go badly the next year. I experienced that. We lost Jacoby Ellsbury, and then Shane Victorino gets hurt, and all of a sudden you can’t get that feeling back again.
“But we have the nucleus here to overcome that. We’ve got to find a way to replace Pablo and everything he brought to our team.”
And to a young Venezuelan, catcher Hector Sanchez, Sandoval was a hero, a mentor.
“He tried to make every day a happy day for us,” Sanchez said. “He helped me a lot first time I got called up to the big leagues. He tried to teach me what I had to learn. I feel glad for him because he got a great contract.”
Giants executives Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans felt they extended themselves as far as they could for Sandoval. By the end of the regular season, it seemed that Sandoval would be offered a three-year deal and no more, because the weight issue was something Giants officials had grown tired of.
But when the Red Sox set the market at five years, the Giants had no choice but to match it. Even when they did, it seemed Sandoval was put off because the Giants weren’t out front in trying to retain him, despite the heroics he had provided when it counted most.
One Giants player who wished not to be identified said, “I think maybe his time here had run its course. Sometimes you want to stay just long enough. Maybe things might not have gone as smooth if he had hung around over the next five years. And so maybe a change was good for everyone.”
Maybe, but it’s a void. Defections usually hurt championship teams.
Sandoval might have been overweight, and maybe his regular-season numbers weren’t eye-popping, but he clearly was a dynamic and prominent figure for the Giants. And he got away, in his prime at age 28, leaving behind quite a legacy.
Is it a loss the Giants can overcome?