After being drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft, San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt has seen his star rise and fall more often than most young players. But is it justified for him to be seen as just a fringe player?
There is a first baseman in the National League right now who is a sought after commodity for most teams looking to fill that position. He hit 18 home runs last year, driving in 66, and had a .276 batting average in an injury-shortened season. And his name is not Brandon Belt.
For some reason, the current first baseman for the Atlanta Braves, Freddie Freeman, seems to have a higher value around the league than Belt. Even if last years numbers are somewhat comparable, (I say somewhat because Freeman played in 19 less games) Belt does not garner the same excitement around the league.
Belt is a shade older at 27, compared to Freeman at 26. And Freeman did enter the league at a younger age. But that doesn’t mean that these two players are that different. Compare Belt’s numbers to Freeman’s shown above. (Equal in home runs at 18, Belt had 68 RBI’s and a .280 batting average.)
The early part of Belt’s career consisted of facing exclusively righties. His swing against lefties early on was not anything to write home about. But with increased experience, he was able to find his groove. That is, until injuries started to happen.
With 556 games in 5 years, Belt is averaging just over 110 games per season. This includes two seasons, his rookie season as well as 2014, when he played in around 60 games. Freeman has played in 118 games or more in every season except his late-season call-up in 2010 (20 games).
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Freeman has had the opportunity to play in a park that is more friendly to hitters than AT&T Park, and it would be interesting to see what his numbers would look like if he played 81 games there. While Belt is known as the more polished player defensively, Freeman has been more consistent with his power. But he still hasn’t hit more than 23 home runs in a season. Belt’s best power numbers were last year, hitting his 18 round-trippers.
Coming off a concussion and other injuries, Belt is arbitration eligible. The two sides have exchanged figures, with Belt seeking $7.5 million and the team countering with $5.3 million. Just for comparison, Freeman signed an 8-year, $135 million contract in 2014. Taking out my trusty calculator tells me that he is averaging $16.8 million per year for the life of the contract. (Or more than double the amount requested by Belt this year.)
The question in everyone’s mind will be, but what if Belt doesn’t remain at first since Buster Posey may need another position in a couple of years. That is a valid question, and one that deserves attention.
Belt, injuries aside, will remain productive well into his mid-thirties. His value will be there with his glove, and if he is a Tony Perez-type (.280 average, 20 home runs) later on in his career, then that is still of value. The question is, would any long-term contract be advantageous to the team or to Belt?
The answer right now is no.
The team needs to figure out exactly what the future of Posey is before settling in on first base. It is an interesting dilemma, given the youth of both players. But the outfield experiment has not seemed to work out for Belt, and his valuable defense at first has become a little taken for granted.
So the team seems to be willing to wait this one out for a bit, and check the market until a good opportunity presents itself. Whether it is a trade or another crack at the outfield, Belt will most likely not be playing first for the Giants when Posey is ready to get out from behind the plate. It’s a good problem to have, but one that is tricky when you want to appease the player financially, but aren’t willing to commit long-term based on future needs.