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Fitter Sandoval could get contract extension in spring

Giants would consider new deal before third baseman hits free agency

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Giants general manager Brian Sabean said Tuesday that he would consider offering Pablo Sandoval a contract extension as early as Spring Training if the third baseman reports to camp in decent physical condition.

Remaining in good shape has challenged Sandoval more than hitting a Clayton Kershaw curveball. Sandoval's weight has fluctuated during his five full seasons with the Giants, causing him to balloon as high as an estimated 280 pounds at one juncture.

But as Sandoval proved in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, he remains extremely skilled. Since 2009, when Sandoval batted .330 with 25 home runs in his first full Major League season, the switch-hitter has struggled to combine power and consistency, due not only to his weight but also frequent injuries. Last season, Sandoval hit .278 with 14 home runs and 79 RBIs in 141 games. He hasn't exceeded 20 homers or a .300 batting average since 2011.

However, Sandoval will become eligible for free agency after next season, when his three-year, $17.15 million contract expires. It's easy to theorize that the inducement of the open market -- or a lucrative pact from the Giants -- could spur Sandoval to control his weight and increase his offensive production.

"Perhaps his pending free agency is the best medicine," Sabean said during the second day of baseball's Winter Meetings. "If we're impressed by what we see when he comes to Spring Training, I wouldn't be against talking about an extension."

Sabean pointed out that rising salaries for subordinate players and stars alike, along with the ceaseless competition for talent, will enable Sandoval to cash in as a free agent.

"He's 27 years old and there are two leagues involved. He's not going to be short on suitors. Trust me," Sabean said.

A remark from a scout for an American League East team supported Sabean's view.

"I don't care if [Sandoval] weighs 427 pounds," the scout said. "He'll hit at least 30 home runs in our park."

Sabean struck a conciliatory tone regarding Sandoval's weight.

"I'm not a doctor, I'm not the good Lord, so I don't know what somebody's able to do as far as his weight and body type," Sabean said. "He's a Giant. Whatever his waistline, I know Pablo loves the game and has great passion. [Being overweight] is something that's been a hard thing to control. We've helped him every year; some years he's helped himself more than others."

Sabean's remarks indicated that trading Sandoval, the subject of offseason rumors, was not an option.

Occasional dispatches sent through social media by Sandoval's brother, Michael, indicate that the 2012 World Series Most Valuable Player has indeed been conditioning himself diligently in his native Venezuela. Sandoval is expected to return to the United States next month, which will allow the Giants to monitor him more closely.

Sabean didn't rule out waiting until the end of the season to engineer Sandoval's extension, as the Giants did this year with right fielder Hunter Pence. He agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract on the season's final day.

But the Giants also have a history of concluding such matters during springtime. Outfielder Randy Winn signed a three-year, $23.25 million extension in March 2006. Right-hander Matt Cain received his six-year, $127.5 million deal on April 2, 2012. And catcher Buster Posey signed his nine-year, $167 million pact on March 29 this year.

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.
Read More: San Francisco Giants, Pablo Sandoval