July 20, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Brandon Belt expects Panda-monium in San Francisco once more.

Pablo Sandoval plans to sign a minor league contract to return to the Giants, a person with knowledge of his intentions said Thursday. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been announced. That should happen Friday.

The Kung Fu Panda is coming home for a fresh start - and Belt is convinced the 2012 World Series MVP will be a fan favorite again.

''He was a big part of our World Series runs, so I think he's always going to have a place here in San Francisco and everybody's going to love that he's back,'' Belt, San Francisco's first baseman, said while walking into the ballpark Thursday. ''I haven't seen him in a while, so I don't know. I think he was definitely a fan favorite, so I don't think there's going to be any problem with that.''

Sandoval technically will not be free to agree to a deal with a team until 1 p.m. EDT on Friday upon clearing waivers. Giants general manager Bobby Evans declined to confirm San Francisco's interest in bringing back the once-popular Panda, as he became known and beloved in the Bay Area.

Whether that affection for the burly switch-hitter remains is yet to be seen, and Sandoval is scheduled to play with Triple-A Sacramento at least initially.

''He's done so many amazing things here. He's always been one of those personalities that kind of fits in with the Giants and the Bay Area,'' right fielder Hunter Pence said. ''I've always enjoyed Pablo. I'm very grateful for the times that we played together, the remarkable things he's done in clutch situations and enjoyed his playful, creative spirit. There's been just a great bond him and this city and what he's done here, for the post part.''

The Boston Red Sox released Sandoval on Wednesday when the third baseman didn't report after being designated for assignment last week.

It officially ended the Boston tenure for the slugger, who never was healthy enough to live up to the expectations that came with the $95 million free agent contract he signed in 2014 - bolting the Bay Area shortly after helping the Giants win their third World Series title this decade. At the time, he had pondered an offer from the Giants worth close to $100 million over five years.

With the Red Sox unable to find a team willing to take on part of his salary, Sandoval moved on after a total of 161 games, 575 at-bats, 136 hits and 14 home runs for Boston - but not a single one of them in the postseason.

In San Francisco, he delivered in October. His lasting memory, for now anyway, is the moment he leaned back on bent knees and raised his arms in triumph after winning another World Series in 2014. After that, he publicly insisted after the Oct. 31 victory parade that he wanted to retire with the Giants. He was coming off a three-year deal that guaranteed him $17.15 million.

In 2014, Sandoval hit .279 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 157 regular-season games for the Giants and .366 in the postseason with seven doubles and five RBIs, four during the World Series against Kansas City.

Then, just like that, he was gone about a month later.

When Sandoval played at Oakland in his Bay Area return in May 2015, he said he believed his comments from during spring training that year expressing frustration at the team's handling of negotiations and those that he only missed manager Bochy and Pence ''came out the wrong side.''

If Sandoval, who turns 31 on Aug. 11, finds a hitting groove again he could provide a boost for San Francisco's struggling lineup that has the Giants sitting last in the NL West. He is batting .212 with four homers and 12 RBIs in 32 games this season.

''Hopefully he comes over here and rakes and we win more championships,'' Belt said. ''That'd be great.''

MLB.com first reported Sandoval's pending return.

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