Tuesday was the last day that teams could announce the amount of money they would want to offer their arbitration-eligible players, but it was the San Francisco Giants who ended up making a move that would allow them to not have to worry about what to do with one of their stars on offense. They inked third baseman and crowd favorite Pablo Sandoval to a three year, $17.15 million deal, effectively signing the not as portly Kung Fu Panda through the rest of his arbitration years before he becomes a free agent for the 2015 season.
After a break out performance during his first full season in the majors back in 2009, Sandoval took a major step back in 2010 thanks to weight issues and poor performance, an odd dichotomy considering the team went on to win the World Series. The Giants had hoped that Sandoval would come back with a vengeance in 2011, and thanks to an offseason workout regimen that saw him lose 40 pounds, Sandoval was in the best shape of his young career and ended up having a season that saw him amongst the best third basemen in baseball.
His triple slash of .315/.357/.552 was very impressive, and matched up pretty well to his .330/.387/.556 line in his breakout season of ’09 in 36 less games. But what was even more impressive than that was his defense, as his slimmed down body allowed him to man down the hot corner to a 12.3 Ultimate Zone Rating, behind only Placido Polanco’s 14.0 for the best rating amongst all third basemen in the MLB. DRS agreed, with a staggering +22 mark, which was tied with Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson for the best mark at any position in the league.
His salary breakdown is as follows: $3.2 million in 2012, $5.7 million in 2013 and $8.25 million in 2014. Considering he’s been worth 14 fWAR in his three seasons (which included his down 2010), this is a steal for the Giants, as Panda will most likely outperform the value of his entire contract in 2012 alone if he continues to stay healthy both in body and in games played. His improvement in 2011 along with the return of Buster Posey to the Giants lineup should prove to boost the Giants offense in the middle of that order.
The extension of Sandoval does call to mind the other major arbitration case the Giants have this year: Tim Lincecum has announced that he wants $21 million in arbitration while the Giants are willing to give $17.5 million. If the case goes to a hearing, Lincecum will most likely win his case and it will become the largest amount of money ever given in arbitration to a single player in the history of the process. Later on this week, I will take a closer look at the value of Lincecum going forward for the Giants, as the contract he is eventually given will set the salary structure for the team going forward and will also have a major effect on both his arbitration status for 2013 and his free agency that will begin in 2014.