SAN FRANCISCO (AP) From his three-homer game in the 2012 World Series to that lasting image of his arms in the air celebrating another championship last month, Pablo Sandoval left quite a mark in San Francisco.
No wonder fans are stunned he is really leaving. Right after he said he would love to retire in a Giants uniform, no less.
Kung Fu Panda is moving about as far away as he could go, to the American League and an East Coast team hoping to duplicate San Francisco's recent run of success. Sandoval and the Boston Red Sox agreed to a multiyear contract, and the switch-hitting third baseman informed the Giants on Monday he will be taking his services elsewhere.
''To the greatest fans in San Francisco! Leaving the (hashtag)SFGiants & this city I love is the most difficult decision I have ever made,'' Sandoval posted on Twitter and Instagram. ''I have grown up w/you, laughed & cried w/you & you have blessed me (with) your support, friendship & love. It has been an unforgettable (at)SFGiants career, a great run & 3 World Series championships in 5 yrs w/great teammates, coaches, front office & fans. I will always remember you w love & my heart will always be in (hashtag)SF.''
Sandoval, the 2012 World Series MVP, had pondered an offer from the Giants worth about $95 million over five years, assistant general manager Bobby Evans said. San Francisco might have taken it up closer to $100 million. That's comparable to what Sandoval is expected to receive from the Red Sox.
The slugger is expected to be formally introduced Tuesday in Boston.
''He was obviously a huge part of the organization's three World Series wins the past five years,'' shortstop Brandon Crawford said via email. ''It'll definitely be a little different not having him over at third. We will miss him in SF and wish him the best in Boston.''
What's next for Evans and Giants general manager Brian Sabean is unclear, given there's hardly a panda-sized pool of available third basemen.
The Giants are likely to show interest in free-agent third baseman Chase Headley. They also are expected to enter the race for Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas.
Sabean said when the season ended that Sandoval was the No. 1 priority before anything else got done to build the 2015 roster.
Losing Sandoval stings, and will for a while - even if he was ready for a change and new challenge after seven major league seasons with the Giants.
The burly switch-hitter was beloved in the Bay Area, where fans sported panda hats in his honor - including a quartet of oversized heads on a few fans during the franchise's latest championship run. His lasting memory likely will be the moment he leaned back on bent knees and raised his arms in triumph after winning another World Series last month.
''He has been with us through some of the greatest moments in San Francisco Giants history - including all three World Series championships,'' the Giants said in a statement. ''We will never forget his World Series MVP performance in 2012 and his numerous contributions to the 2014 championship. His connection with Giants fans - young and old - is truly special, and he will be greatly missed. We wish him nothing but the best in Boston.''
The 28-year-old Sandoval met with the Red Sox last week. After winning his third World Series title in five years with San Francisco, he indicated he wanted to retire with the Giants. He is coming off a three-year deal that guaranteed him $17.15 million.
Sandoval joins a big-spending Boston team that finished last in the AL East, one year after winning the World Series.
Sandoval hit .279 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 157 games this season. He also batted .366 in the postseason with seven doubles and five RBIs, four during the World Series against Kansas City.
''I want to wear that jersey for the rest of my career,'' Sandoval said after the Oct. 31 victory parade. ''I'm going to go from what my heart tells me.''
Having the chance to eventually become a designated hitter could have factored into his choice.
After the season, Sandoval declined to answer when asked whether he might accept a hometown discount. He has faced constant criticism about his ever-changing waistline, and the fact he performs in the postseason but has been inconsistent through the first 162 games.
''I'd love to be back here. I love the fans. I love my teammates,'' Sandoval said. ''They taught me a lot of things, to respect the game and play the game right.''
Sandoval and the Giants traded offers in the spring but failed to reach a deal.
Sabean said earlier this month much of his offseason business would be dictated by what happened with Sandoval. Other free agents from this year's team are starting pitchers Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, reliever Sergio Romo and left fielder Michael Morse.
The GM can now begin work on the next names on his checklist.