Normally, this is the time of year baseball fans anxious for hot stove news read optimistic report after optimistic report about players being in the best shape of their careers.
Not so for at least one prominent young National League third baseman while another may be shedding that out of shape image - again.
Everyone knows Kung Fu Panda, roly-poly third baseman Pablo Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants. Fantasy players are all too familiar with him as an overweight disappointment in 2010, who lost his job several times, and whose general manager threatened to banish him to the minors in 2011 if the Panda doesn’t report to camp in shape.
This occurred a year after baseball watchers were led to believe that the team’s “Operation Panda,” their fat camp intended to help Sandoval shed his extra pounds, had been successful. The problem is that Panda put that weight right back on between November and the start of 2010 spring training.
If we are to believe what we read, Sandoval took the criticism and challenge from GM Brian Sabean to heart.
A recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle stated that Sandoval looks “really great” after training this winter with private fitness coaches. Before getting too excited, however, the news is a second-hand account from former Giants teammate Rich Aurilia who ran into Sandoval at a Phoenix mall.
No scales were apparently available at the local Old Navy, but Sandoval told Aurilia he has shed 17 pounds. Several other corroborating stories quoting various weight loss amounts by the giant Giant were cited by the Chron.
I was trying to decide whether or not to write this article when on Friday afternoon, I received a gift from heaven, well Twitter heaven, anyway. It was the equivalent of a flat, 80 MPH fastball soft-tossed over the center of the plate, served up by an unwitting Andrew Baggarly, Giants beat reporter for the San Jose Mercury News.
Baggarly, known in the Twitterverse as @extrabaggs, tweeted the following.
I couldn’t help myself. I just couldn’t. My retort was quick, short and sweet;
"@B_Walton: Which plate: home or dinner?"
Now we have the sequel, Panda II, set 3,600 miles to the east. It is the story of Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez, who may have picked up those pounds Sandoval has reportedly already lost several times over.
Last week, a blogger at piratesreport.com expressed serious concerns about the Bucs’ third sacker’s off-season conditioning. According to the story, Alvarez has “ballooned in excess of 240 pounds, at least 15 pounds more than he finished last season.”
In an unusual response during a chat session at MLB.com on Wednesday, Pittsburgh team president Frank Coonelly directly refuted the piratesreport.com article, calling the characterization “not accurate.”
Coonelly then went on to say this, however: “Pedro has gotten stronger through an extensive offseason conditioning program, but there is still work to be done with respect to body weight and composition.”
As they say, ‘if it looks like a panda, walks like a panda and quacks like a panda…’
By the way, Alvarez turns 24 years of age this week, same as fellow rotund hot corner man Sandoval.
Keep a close eye on both third basemen in spring camp. A notoriously shallow position can’t afford to lose two young players expected to fetch double-digit values on draft day in mixed leagues. The potential hit in NL-only leagues would be even greater.
While many fantasy players are expecting big things from the two this season, it isn’t a literal hope, after all.
Freese warning: As long as we are on the subject of young National League third basemen to watch in spring training, and since we’ve covered the East and West Divisions already, let’s take one from the Central, too. I offer a third exhibit, the Cardinals’ David Freese.
While his weight is just fine, there is caution because he is coming off three ankle surgeries in the last two years. Just three weeks ago, an upbeat Freese told me that he expected to be fully ready for opening day.
Not so fast.
New news from beat writer Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the Cardinals delighted if Freese proves to be able to answer the bell for 115 games in 2011, with an alarming comment that his ongoing ankle problems are due to an arthritic condition.
This means some combination of ex-Twin Nick Punto, Tyler Greene or Allen Craig may start at the hot corner in about one-third of St. Louis’ schedule or more. Tamp down your Freese expectations accordingly.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.