BOSTON — Pablo Sandoval’s arms are wide open. The 28-year-old third baseman is prepared to welcome the Red Sox experience with a giant (Panda) bear hug.
Sandoval became a beloved figure in San Francisco during his successful seven-year tenure with the Giants. The three-time World Series champion decided it was time to start penning a new chapter in his career, though, and Boston represented a perfect stage for the man known as Kung-Fu Panda.
“It was a tough decision for me. It took me a long time to be sure that I was making the right decision,” Sandoval said Tuesday during an introductory press conference at Fenway Park. “The Giants gave me an opportunity to be in the big leagues. They opened the door, they taught me how to respect the game. The Giants’ fans are one of the best.
“I want a new challenge, and I made that choice to be here in Boston because I need a new challenge,” Sandoval continued. “I’m going to show (the Boston fans) that I came here to give the support to the team that (can make) the postseason again.”
Sandoval on Tuesday agreed to a five-year contract with the Red Sox that also includes a club option for a sixth season. Boston identified Sandoval as a primary target early in the free agency process, but there obviously was some question as to whether the two-time All-Star would leave San Francisco, where his larger-than-life personality and track record of postseason success made him a fan favorite.
The Red Sox soon discovered there was mutual interest, however. The idea of playing alongside David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and a cast of other hungry veterans was an enticing possibility for Sandoval. While the Giants made their homegrown third-sacker a competitive offer in free agency, Sandoval couldn’t resist the urge to try to carry his success to a storied franchise looking to rebound after a disappointing 2014.
“You have a great team, great teammates, great organization,” Sandoval said of joining the Sox. “You want a new challenge. You want something new. They have me the opportunity to be here. They opened the door for me to be here to start my new challenge. The choice that I made was tough. It wasn’t easy. But you want to start something new.”
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said Tuesday that Sandoval was an “obvious” target in free agency for several reasons, including the veteran’s ability to thrive in big moments. Sandoval’s success in the Bay Area doesn’t guarantee success in Boston, but the match is intriguing given his desire to win and the Red Sox’s clear emphasis on bolstering their offense at a position of need.
“Having a chance to see him over the years, he really embodies a lot of what we care about,” Cherington said. “This is a guy who’s been a big winner. He’s been a performer when it counts the most. He’s respected as a teammate, loves to play and we think really fits what we’re all about here. We’re really looking forward to having him in a Red Sox uniform in the middle of our lineup for years to come.”
The Red Sox undoubtedly have high expectations for Sandoval, evidenced by their willingness to reportedly pay close to $100 million for his services. Sandoval shares those high expectations, particularly after such a fruitful beginning to his career on the West Coast.
“It’s not going to be different. Baseball is baseball,” the Panda said of adapting to a new habitat. “I’m still going to love the game, respect the game, have fun.”
Sandoval wanted a new challenge. But his priorities clearly haven’t changed, which bodes well for Boston.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images