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Trade Target: Why Pablo Sandoval Might Be a Good Acquisition

Pablo Sandoval had a roaring 2009. That year, Sandoval was the Giants' premier position player and it wasn't particularly close; "Fat Ichiro" was worth 5.3 wins  while next best on his team was worth 2.8. In his first full season "Kung Fu Panda" put together a .330/.387/.556 triple slash line, good for a .396 wOBA and a 145 wRC+. All told, he was worth +35 runs in 633 plate appearances.

There was, however, a reason for concern because Sandoval's BABIP was .350+ that season despite him not exactly being the speediest of players. Sandoval had maintained high BABIPs in the minor leagues and in a brief stint in 2008, however, so many believed that he would sustain such a rate this season. This was not the case.

Sandoval suffered brutal regression this season. His triple slash line dipped to a bad .268/.323/.409, equating to a .314 wOBA and 95 wRC+. The BABIP that was sky high fell to a more human .291, and more alarmingly the power that Sandoval had showcased in 09 vanished, his home run total dropping from 25 to 13 and his ISO dropping to .140. Sandoval was effectively a below average hitter.

Despite this, however, Sandoval might make a good rebound trade candidate. Reasons examined after the jump.
  1. Sandoval's 2009 might not be that fluky: Let's start with the obvious. Sandoval is probably not going to replicate his 2009 season but he's only one year removed from it. CHONE thinks that much of the talent he showed that year is real, pegging his offensive value still at +20 runs from a .312/.354/.495 triple slash. From the DH position, this would be worth about 2.5 wins. Pretty good, even if you knock off half a win for moving to the AL East (although Panda's home park is somewhat hitter unfriendly) and for moving to the DH position.
  2. Positional Flexibility: Sandoval can play multiple positions. At 1B, Sandoval has been a tick above league-average in a third of a season's worth of defensive time. From there, assuming league-average defense,his production would suddenly be roughly 3 wins a season going with CHONE's projections. Sandoval can also play 3rd base at roughly league-average, so (heaven forbid) if something were to happen to Evan Longoria, he could fill in. Finally, Sandoval is also capable of playing catcher, and although we probably wouldn't want that, for one or two innings this allows Joe Maddon a tad more pinch-hitting flexibility.
  3. Age: Pablo Sandoval is only 24 years old. I won't belabor this point, but he probably is going to improve overall as a hitter.
  4. Cost and Availability: Sandoval won't be arbitration eligible until 2012 and even then his price will probably not be outrageous. Additionally, rumors were flying that the Giants were interested in Jason Bartlett. Although Brian Sebean, the Giants' GM is notoriously difficult to trade with, it's possible that a package consisting of Jason Bartlett and perhaps a lower level pitching farmhand such as Aneury Rodriguez, Alex Torres, or Alex Cobb could seal the deal.

There's a large uncertainty bar on Pablo Sandoval's true talent level. He could be anything from the 1.9 win league average player he was this year to the 5.3 win star he was in 09. If Andrew Friedman and Brian Sebean disagree sufficiently on Sandoval's true value, however, and the right price can be achieved, I see no reason the Rays shouldn't make an effort to trade for Pablo Sandoval.