SAN FRANCISCO -- As crazy as this would have sounded a couple of years ago, you can argue that no Giant has been showered with more love this season than Pablo Sandoval.
Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner still are the faces of the franchise, but Posey has had a rough season with few offensive highlights and Bumgarner pitches just once every five days. Then there's Sandoval, any bridge-burning long since forgotten, getting into just about every game at Oracle Park, whether as the most dangerous bat in the starting lineup or manager Bruce Bochy's top pinch-hitter.
Every at-bat comes with roars, and no Giant has sparked loud comebacks more than Sandoval, who leads the team with a .895 OPS and is tied for the lead with 10 homers. Sandoval has been a weapon off the bench, and when Bochy sends him up to pinch-hit late in games, the fans in the first deck rise and cheer as soon as he bounces out of the dugout. He received a standing ovation when he hit late Thursday night.
It has been a remarkable season for Sandoval, who's now 32. But will it end in San Francisco?
The Giants fully intend to be sellers over the next five weeks, and Sandoval has become a potentially nice chip, a switch-hitter who can play multiple positions and upgrade any contender's bench. He also could become the hardest decision for new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.
If the Giants receive the kind of package the Red Sox gave them for Eduardo Nuñez two years ago -- Shaun Anderson and promising pitching prospect Gregory Santos -- they'll need to take it. The talent gap in the NL West is too wide for Zaidi to pass up an opportunity like that, and it could be there.
The Giants' front office already has received calls on Sandoval, per a source, and he comes with few strings attached. The Red Sox are paying all of Sandoval's salary after they released him in July 2017, but the MLB minimum and his five-year deal is up at the end of the season. The Giants are quietly optimistic that the production and appealing contractual situation could bring back a solid prospect.
But if the proposed return isn't all that strong, Zaidi will have a tough call to make. In an odd way, it's easier to deal a Madison Bumgarner or Will Smith. They should bring back real help for a minor league system that needs it. The return on Sandoval could be more of a flier, in which case the Giants will need to weigh that minor boost for the future with all that Sandoval brings in 2019.
The production is easy to see, but at an elementary level, the Giants simply need to give their fan base a reason to tune in over the final two months. Attendance and interest already is way down, and selling off Sandoval for a middling prospect after tearing up the bullpen and dealing Bumgarner would be a tough look. At some point, you have to give your fans something to cheer for, right?
Plus, there's the fun factor. Before a season-ending injury last year, Bochy was planning to let Sandoval play all nine positions in one game. If Sandoval is around this September, Bochy fully intends to let him do it.
Sandoval also brings value to the Giants' clubhouse, which certainly missed his energy last September. The staff knows that Sandoval would be a good veteran to have around if a young group is playing out the final two months.
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Finally, there's an emotional factor. This is Bochy's last season, and Sandoval, who considers the manager a father figure, is one of his favorite players. The Giants had multiple intense conversations about Sandoval versus Alen Hanson late in the spring, and it wasn't anywhere close to unanimous when Sandoval was chosen.
That was the right move, but at some point over the next six weeks, the Giants could be faced with another tough Sandoval decision. They should make it carefully.