- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The San Francisco Giants always love it when there’s less of Pablo Sandoval to go around, so they had to be thrilled when he arrived at camp this week looking less the Kung Fu Panda and more like a determined third baseman hoping to reclaim his reputation and squeeze every drop out of his future.
Sandoval, whose weight has been an ongoing issue throughout his tenure with the Giants, arrived in Scottsdale noticeably trimmer after a winter of commitment back home in Venezuela. His routine included workouts with Rafael Alvarez, Bobby Abreu’s old trainer, and healthy meals prepared by his brother Luis, who is a professional chef.
In January, reports surfaced out of Venezuela that Sandoval had dropped more than 40 pounds. But they were never confirmed, and Sandoval was coy on the topic when asked for specifics by the San Francisco media during a dugout interview at Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday.
"I haven’t even weighed in yet," he said.
When asked if he’ll reveal his weight after that formality is dispensed with, Sandoval good-naturedly remarked, "Ask the trainer."
Nevertheless, Sandoval’s new look is testament to his desire to set things right with the world. After winning the 2012 World Series MVP award, he seemed poised for a monster 2013. Those hopes vanished when he hit 14 home runs in 525 at-bats and logged a .758 OPS -- the second-worst mark of his five full seasons in San Francisco.
Sandoval's best career year came in 2011, when he slimmed down and posted a .909 OPS with 23 home runs in 117 games. But a combination of hand injuries, a left foot strain in 2013 and an expanding waistline had begun to put a crimp in his production. The Giants started to express concerns about Sandoval's long-term health and effectiveness, and his range in the field had continued to diminish as he packed on the pounds.
“It put it in my mind that I needed to grow up and take my job seriously," Sandoval said. "When they tell me all those things, I have to take that serious. It wasn't just one person telling me. My teammates know the kind of player I am. They want me to be better out there."
While Sandoval is hugely popular in the Bay Area for his every-man physique and good-natured persona, he was admittedly stung by some of the media criticism he has received over his weight. He knows some skeptics will maintain that he’s getting in shape entering his free agent "walk" year, and will revert to his old ways once he signs his next contract this winter. But he insists that’s not paramount in his thought process.
"I don’t care about the contract," he said. "I care about my team. I care about this year, and trying to win a championship. People can say whatever they want. It doesn't matter. I’m here to help my teammates win games."
And if the Giants decide they want approach him about a contract extension in the coming weeks and months? He's ready to listen.
"I'm going to be open about it," Sandoval said. "I don't want to say no."
For now, discussion about his long-term future with the Giants can wait. This spring will be dedicated to showing people that the Pablo Sandoval of 2011 and 2012 still exists. He just took a sabbatical for a while.