*This column was originally posted on the Baseball Hot Corner.
Panda Watch 2014 is officially over. After winning three World Series rings and being an integral part in two of them, Pablo Sandoval has left the San Francisco Giants and headed to Boston to man the hot corner for the Red Sox.
While the Red Sox are now loaded with talent, depth, and options as they have not only signed Sandoval, but Hanley Ramirez as well, the Giants are now full of questions. After winning the World Series just last month, the Giants have questions with their starting rotation on the mound, no third basemen, and an empty spot in left field as well. You have to feel for all those fans sporting panda heads each game at AT&T Park, too. Maybe Joe Panik can go on an eating binge and take over as the next panda by the bay.
Losing Sandoval from third base hurts both in the field and in the lineup. Despite Sandoval’s hefty size and worries of long-term weight issues, he played a solid third base. In 2014, Sandoval saved four runs, and his 50 “Out of Zone” plays were second to only Seattle’s Kyle Seager, who went on to win the American League Gold Glove for third basemen. Simply put, Sandoval can make the routine plays and can maneuver his way side to side much more efficiently than many would think.
In the lineup, Sandoval was Buster Posey’s protection, though his regular season wasn’t eye-popping. In 157 games played, Pablo hit .279/.324/.415 with 16 home runs and 73 RBI. Solid across the board, but not superstar status, until he famously turns the switch on in the playoffs. According to FanGraphs, Sandoval had a 3.0 WAR, only the 11th best for third basemen in baseball.
For being the World Champions, the Giants have questions, but options, starting with third base and creating a domino effect.
With Pablo off the board, the most heralded free agent option at third is Sandoval’s former NL West foe, Chase Headley. Between the San Diego Padres and New York Yankees, Headley hit .243/.328/.372 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI. Where Headley thrived last year was with the glove, giving him 21.6 Def (Fielding Runs Above Average + positional adjustment) points, leading baseball at his position. Thanks to this defensive production, Headley ranked higher than Sandoval in WAR with 4.4 WAR.
Headley would not be the same protection behind Posey as Sandoval, but his glove would be a plus, and perhaps the Giants would look to their other player with an animal nickname to breakout and be the other power presence of the lineup. This, of course, is The Giraffe aka Brandon Belt, who plays into the domino effect another way too if the Giants decide to get a little wild, but reasonable with an in-house scenario.
As much of the baseball world knows, Buster Posey didn’t become a full-time catcher until his sophomore year at Florida State University. There have been no talks about Posey leaving his role as the starting catcher for the Giants, but he also played the most games at another position other than catcher for the first time in his career this year. Posey caught 111 games, but also played 35 at first base. With experience years ago as a shortstop, it is not unreasonable to think that Posey couldn’t help platoon at third base.
Posey has never played third base in his career, and it’s certain that he will not be the everyday third baseman in 2015, but it’s not out of the world to think he can’t help there. If the Giants miss out on Headley they can go with a mix of Joaquin Arias and Matt Duffy at third or get a cheap alternative like Alberto Callaspo from the free agent market. When Posey is behind the plate for the Giants, he is one of the most valuable players in baseball. That changes with him playing games at first or third base, but he can’t play every game as a catcher for the duration of his contract. The emergence of prospect Andrew Susac clearly helps too. In 35 games up in the bigs, Susac hit .273/.326/.466, adding three home runs and 19 RBI.
Left field is also an unknown right now for the Giants and if they decide to give Posey significant time at first base, this could be another domino effect for Belt, possibly pushing him into time playing the outfield again at times. We’ll get to that another time, though. The Giants are also supposedly one of the teams who have sent an offer to Cuban star Yasmany Tomas, a primary outfielder who has shown the ability to possibly play third base in the eyes of some scouts.
The Giants have lost a fan favorite and vital part of the championship franchise with Pablo Sandoval’s departure. Now, questions float around with what to do next, yet the options are far from scarce.