What will Sandoval do if he doesn't make team? Keep on playing

March 26th, 2024

OAKLAND -- Franchise icon will have an expected farewell of sorts when he plays at Oracle Park on Tuesday, but he does not plan on going more than 90 miles beyond China Basin after the exhibition.

Sandoval said before Monday’s 4-1 win over the A's that if, as expected, he does not make the team, he plans to report to Sacramento to fulfill his Triple-A contract.

That makes him an anomaly among players his age (37) with his résumé, which includes 14 Major League seasons, two All-Star selections, a World Series Most Valuable Player Award and four championship rings.

Most players in Sandoval’s shoes would go home until another team offers a Major League contract -- or perhaps retire. They do not stick around in Triple-A.

“I’ll go,” Sandoval said. “It’s a blessing to be playing baseball right now. It’s been tough for veteran guys to get jobs. The way everything is going, I feel blessed for the opportunity. I’m going to be able to go every day and play with a lot of joy.”

Sandoval already has demonstrated he will go a long way to wear a uniform. Since his last Major League game in 2021, he has played winter ball in his native Venezuela and Puerto Rico, as well as 91 games for two Mexican League teams in '22. Last fall, Sandoval even briefly played for Baseball United in the United Arab Emirates, the highlight being a six-run home run (yes, a six-run home run).

“He will play baseball until they take his bat and spikes away,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He just loves to play baseball. He has a passion for it unlike very many. He’s in the cage all day long. He’s taking ground balls as much as he possibly can. He is happiest when he is on a baseball field playing baseball. So it’s going to be very difficult for him to stop playing.”

First things first. Sandoval will get to play before fans at Oracle Park on Tuesday night for the first time since 2019 (he was a Giant in '20, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented fans from attending games). Melvin said Sandoval will be out there at some point, though not on the mound. Sandoval and his fans can salute each other one more time.

Sandoval returned to Oracle Park last summer for clubhouse manager Mike Murphy’s induction onto the Wall of Fame and said, “That was special. But going back and wearing the uniform one more time will be more special.”

Hicks dominates A’s
Nothing screams “I’m going to make it as a starter” louder than striking out 10 over five no-hit innings in your final Spring Training tuneup as converted reliever Jordan Hicks did on Monday.

Hicks' line is impressive enough, but he ended his night by striking out seven in a row before his final hitter, Shea Langeliers, grounded out to end the fifth. Hicks walked Zack Gelof in the first, the only blip on his line, but Hicks thought he clipped the corner with a full-count sinker.

Hicks’ transition to starting from relieving will depend on consistency and durability, but the early returns are promising. He's thrown strikes, gotten his pitch count into the 70s and learned how to effectively use four pitches.

“I love where I’m at right now. I’m ready,” Hicks, who struck out 22 batters in his final three spring starts, said. “I’m just trying to stay with the progression. Today was the first time getting to five [innings]. I feel really good about the transition and the repetition with all my pitches. I feel like that’s really coming together.”

Catcher Tom Murphy, who hit two solo homers, acknowledged that the biggest doubt about Hicks before Spring Training was his ability to throw strikes consistently.

“To me he’s proven that this spring,” Murphy said. “If he goes out there and does that this season we’re going to see a really great version of him on the mound for six, seven innings.”

Slater's big test
The Giants might not make their final outfield roster decision until the day before their season opener. That's because much depends on how Austin Slater’s throwing elbow feels after he plays consecutive games in the field against the A’s on Monday and Tuesday night.

Slater started in right on Monday, his first outfield appearance since experiencing elbow soreness last week. He did not get much of a test. His only action in the field was in the sixth when he caught a foul fly out, then made a strong throw to second as Lawrence Butler tagged up from first base. But Slater also threw plenty of warmup tosses between innings.

The biggest issue has been residual soreness the day after Slater throws, so the staff needs to see how Slater responds to playing in the outfield in the Bay Bridge Series games before deciding whether to start him on the injured list or the Opening Day roster.

If Slater goes on the IL, Luis Matos, who has a 1.022 OPS this spring, has a good shot of making the team. Melvin said Matos, who made his debut in 2023 and hit .250 across 228 at-bats, has had a “fantastic spring” and done everything he could to make the team, but Slater’s health will be an important factor in Matos’ immediate future.