For years, Boston Red Sox fans could put up with the “Manny being Manny” silliness of Manny Ramirez for one simple reason.

The guy could hit,

So if Ramirez missed a game (or games) for unspecified reasons, or made one of his celebrated defensive lapses, Red Sox fans might cringe but knew Boston needed Ramirez’s bat in the lineup, especially in the postseason.

This brings us to Pablo Sandoval, 29, the loveable Panda. He is jovial, a real character who can also play well in the clutch, evidenced by his playoff numbers for the three-time World Series champion San Francisco Giants (.344 batting average, six homers and 20 RBI in 39 games).

So who cares if Sandoval is a little chubby?

Apparently we do, and for good reason.

So far the most celebrated photo of spring training is Sandoval following through on a throw, his jersey inched up, and his impressive belly drooping over his workout shorts.

“Not pretty” does not begin to describe it.

It only got uglier after Sandoval spoke to the media.

Question: “Do you have anything to prove?”

Sandoval: “I don’t got nothing to prove.” (Before we pounce on the Panda’s English, remember it is his second language).

Question: “Was last year a disappointment?”

“It’s not a disappointment. It’s baseball. … You’re going to have some ups and downs.”

Ups and downs?

Sandoval, signed to a five-year, $95 million contract by Boston, began his Red Sox career by hitting .245 with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .658 – ranking him 131st out of 142 qualified major leaguers.

Defensively, Sandoval was just as bad according to the defensive metrics. Fangraphs ranked him the worst third baseman in baseball and 139th worst fielder out of 142.

The good people at Fangraphs deemed Sandoval’s year “the worst season of any major leaguer” in 2015.

But hey, that’s baseball.

Later, Sandoval reversed his explanation: “I’m going to show fans and my teammates that I can be a better defensive player, offensive player, to win games.”

He could have showed that by arriving in better shape.

Being a physical specimen is not the be-all and end-all of baseball production. The New York Yankees, for example have a wonderful athlete named Jacoby Ellsbury, who is injury-prone and posted a .257 batting average/.663 OPS last year. And his contract extends a year farther than Sandoval’s (into 2020).

So we can make fun of other bloated contracts. But what are the Red Sox going to do with their bloated third baseman?

We’re told Sandoval has always been able to play heavy – and that’s true, but the argument is weakening. We’ve also been told that his fat content is down by 6 percent. (OK, if they say so.)

But what the Red Sox and Sandoval have not answered is how he plans to reverse a troubling downward trend in his performance.

Sandoval’s best season was 2009: .330/.943. His 2011 was very good, too: .315/.909.

But since 2011, his offensive numbers have consistently declined each season. His .245/.658 was more maddening when the switch-hitting Sandoval could no longer hit right-handed, batting .049/.142 until he gave up and batted only from the left side.

Defensively, Sandoval has always been nimble for a man his size. But he faltered badly last year. Using the popular defensive metric UZR, Sandoval rated as a minus 16.9. The next-lowest third baseman, Brett Lawrie, was a minus 10.3 and the highest was a plus 11.8 from Adrian Beltre – a player the Red Sox passed on re-signing in 2010 (just saying).

Bottom line: Sandoval is getting worse.

We are told Sandoval’s big belly has nothing to do with this. Maybe when Sandoval was young and gifted, he could compensate for the extra weight. But he turns 30 this summer. The years and pounds are catching up to him.

Fans are naturally upset about Sandoval’s fat contract and skinny production. But there’s more to the resentment. The Red Sox are always trying to market themselves as a team that cares.

Sandoval showed up for spring training said he has nothing to prove and looked like he could care less. What are fans to think?

Manny Ramirez never seemed to care, either.

But he was in shape. And as infuriating as he could be, Ramirez was one of the game’s best hitters, not the one of the worst.