World Series hero Panda attempting comeback with Giants

February 19th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Panda is back.

The Giants on Monday signed three-time World Series champion as a non-roster invitee this spring.

Sandoval, 37, hasn’t played in the Majors since 2021, though he briefly competed in the new Baseball United league in Dubai last fall and has had stints in the Mexican League and the Puerto Rican Winter League in recent years.

A two-time All-Star and 2012 World Series MVP, Sandoval spent his first seven seasons in San Francisco, where he became a fan favorite thanks to his infectious energy and his steady production at the plate. He famously launched three homers -- including two off three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander -- in Game 1 of the 2012 Fall Classic and then caught the last out of the World Series two years later.

Sandoval left the Giants ahead of the 2015 season, signing a five-year, $95 million deal with the Red Sox, though he vastly underperformed and ended up being released midway through the '17 campaign. Despite burning some bridges on his way out of San Francisco, Sandoval ultimately re-signed with the Giants days later and reinvented himself as a valuable bench piece for the club, even logging a pair of relief appearances in 2018 and '19.

The switch-hitting infielder returned to the Giants on a Minor League deal in January 2020, though he was released in September after batting .220 with a .546 OPS and one home run over 33 games. He later caught on with the Braves, hitting .178 with a .645 OPS and four homers over 69 games in a reserve role in 2021.

The Giants also brought Sergio Romo into camp on a Minor League deal last spring, though Romo made it clear that he planned to make one final exhibition appearance with the club before officially retiring. Sandoval appears to have a bigger comeback in mind, though it’s unclear how he would fit on the Giants’ roster.

and are projected to split time at first base this year, and the Giants already have several options at third, including , and . , who was expected to take his physical at Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday, is also expected to serve as the primary designated hitter after agreeing to a three-year, $42 million deal this week.

Still, the Giants don’t have many lefty options at first base outside of Wade, so Sandoval could potentially force himself into the infield conversation if he can show that he has something left in the tank this spring.

Lopez arrives
Sandoval is probably a long shot to make the Giants’ roster, but new utility man is expected to be firmly in the mix after being acquired from the Blue Jays in exchange for cash considerations on Tuesday.

Lopez, 25, hit .258 with a .656 OPS and two homers over 84 games at Triple-A Buffalo in 2023, but he's 6-for-10 with three RBIs in 11 Major League plate appearances and could help provide depth behind at shortstop. Lopez said he played with Luciano in the Dominican Winter League last offseason and is a fan of the Giants’ No. 2 prospect and No. 39 overall, per MLB Pipeline.

“I love Luciano,” Lopez said. “He’s a great dude.”

Lopez has played every position besides pitcher and catcher in the Minors, with the majority of his appearances coming in the middle infield. He is also fluent in three languages, as he was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in Montreal, where he learned French and English in addition to his native Spanish.

Lopez’s Canadian ties only deepened when he signed with Toronto, where he spent the first six seasons of his professional career.

“It became a part of me, Canada,” Lopez said. “It means a lot.”

In addition to his defensive versatility, Lopez could provide a boost with his speed and athleticism, two areas the Giants have prioritized improving this year.

“I’m pretty fast,” said Lopez, who stole 13 bases at Triple-A Buffalo last year. “I love my speed.”