Panda era over in SF: 'It's been an honor'

September 10th, 2020

The era in San Francisco is over. Where he goes from here is still unknown.

On Thursday, the Giants placed the three-time World Series champion on unconditional release waivers. Giants manager Gabe Kapler, who was released from a big league team for the final time near the same age almost a decade ago, broke the news to the veteran.

“He was such an incredible contributor to the organization, his teammates, the coaching staff, everybody in the organization and everybody in San Francisco that it was very difficult to deliver that news and it was very difficult for Pablo to receive it,” Kapler said. “He was a pro and gentleman every step of the way. I have been through that in a similar way myself when about 10 years ago [then Dodgers manager] Don Mattingly and [former Dodgers general manager] Ned Colletti called me into the office and told me that it was going to be the end of the road with me there. Those are very painful conversations, so I have a lot of empathy for what Pablo is dealing with.”

The move cleared a roster spot for first baseman/DH Justin Smoak, whom the Giants signed to a Minor League deal on Wednesday to be a left-handed designated hitter option and a bat off the bench. The club also activated left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly (left index finger sprain) from the 10-day injured list and optioned right-handed pitcher Rico Garcia to the alternate training site on Thursday.

“Pablo was just in a state of gratitude,” Kapler said. “He appreciated the opportunity and wished the club a lot of success. He mentioned that he believes in the club. It was really a conversation where both sides were thanking each other for the opportunities. I thanked Pablo for everything he brought to the clubhouse and to the team.”

Known across the game for his “Panda” nickname, Sandoval ranks among the most beloved players by the Giants’ fanbase, dating back to his superb play during the club’s string of three World Series titles in a span of five seasons from 2010-14, including a three-homer performance in Game 1 of the ’12 Fall Classic that ultimately netted him Series MVP honors. Both Sandoval and Hunter Pence, another holdover from the Giants’ former dynasty, began the season with San Francisco before each of them was released. Madison Bumgarner, who was also part of the team’s World Series championship runs, pitched against the Giants on Saturday as a member of the D-backs.

After an inconsistent stint with the Red Sox starting in 2015, Sandoval rejoined the Giants in 2017. He experienced an offensive resurgence last season, batting .268 with an .820 OPS and 14 home runs in 108 games before his season was cut short last September because of Tommy John surgery. His final at-bat of the 2019 season was an emotional one, because he thought it was going to be his last in a Giants uniform.

Sandoval eventually signed a Minor League deal with the Giants in January, but he never found his footing. He struggled at the plate, slashing .220/.278/.268 with one homer in 90 plate appearances.

“Pablo is still a talented guy. We've talked about this,” Kapler said. “He's still agile at third base, and he still has great hands. He still has power. We see it on a regular basis in batting practice, but it just wasn't coming together for him the way he wanted it to, and I think he probably would say the same.”