"We think he's about ready to come into his own as a young middle-of-the-order hitter," general manager Brian Sabean said recently. "We're going to give him the benefit of the doubt."
The seeding of those doubts has become a familiar tale. After hitting .330 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs in 2009, his first full big league season, a poorly conditioned Sandoval slumped to .268-13-63 the following year. Lacking confidence at the plate and agility afield, he was essentially benched for the postseason's final six games, playing zero innings defensively in that span.
But Sandoval surged last year. After trimming 40 pounds to begin the season at 240, he hit .315 with 23 homers and 70 RBIs in 117 games while making the National League All-Star team. He accomplished this despite missing 40 early-season games after sustaining a broken right hamate bone and recovering from the subsequent surgery.
"I don't think he wants to go through anything like that again where he kind of feels excluded," right-hander Tim Lincecum said of Sandoval's progress.
Anybody fearing that the contract will leave Sandoval feeling complacent doesn't know him.
"I'm happy but not satisfied," Sandoval said during last weekend's FanFest at AT&T Park. "You want to work more to show the fans what you can do, better and better. I want to keep focused and keep playing hard and show the fans that I don't care about money. I just care about the game."
Right-hander Matt Cain, who has received four- and three-year contracts from the Giants, conveyed the potential impact that a multiyear agreement could have on Sandoval.
"To be able to see him kind of relax -- I know that was beneficial for me, to know the Giants had faith in me," Cain said.
Manager Bruce Bochy observed at FanFest that Sandoval needed to shed a few pounds before Spring Training opens. The Giants' initial full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 24. Sandoval insisted that his weight, which is believed to hover in the 250-pound range, was the product of increased muscle, not fat. Sabean vouched for Sandoval's diligence by saying that the 25-year-old frequently works out twice daily.
Those sessions include defensive seminars at the club's Scottsdale, Ariz., training complex with Jose Alguacil, the organization's roving infield instructor. After working extensively with Alguacil last year, Sandoval finished second to Philadelphia's Placido Polanco in the NL Gold Glove balloting. Having focused on quickening his first step in drills with Alguacil this offseason, Sandoval believes that he can realize a new ambition.
"I want to be first [in Gold Glove voting] now," Sandoval said. "My goal is to have a Gold Glove one day."
But Sandoval, a .307 career hitter with a .857 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), always will be regarded as an offensive threat, first and foremost. Undergoing LASIK surgery on his left eye in November should only improve his ability to decipher pitches.
"I'm seeing the ball better from both sides of the plate," Sandoval said.
Whether Sandoval bats third, fourth or fifth this season depends on a variety of factors. The performances of Buster Posey, who's attempting to overcome his injured left leg, and Aubrey Huff, who's striving to rebound from a subpar 2011, will influence where Bochy deploys Sandoval. So will the fate of newcomer Melky Cabrera, who could be used at leadoff or toward the middle of the order.
"I don't care," Sandoval said. "I just want to be in the lineup."