San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt has struggled for much of the 2019 season. Will the front office find a way to move him this winter?
Brandon Belt began the 2019 season with his typical mixture of high on-base ability and modest power. However, his production has cratered since the start of June. Given these struggles, the San Francisco Giants need to start considering their long-term options at first base.
On the year, the 31-year old has posted a .227/.340/.387 line. His 14.3 percent walk rate remains stout, and his 20.1 percent strikeout rate is the lowest of his career, but those are strong peripheral numbers in an otherwise disappointing season.
Still, with a .340 on-base percentage, Belt’s control of the strike zone is a skill many teams covet. Not surprisingly, Belt’s knack for getting on-base has resulted in him scoring 63 runs this season, which is only four behind Kevin Pillar for the team lead.
Regardless, Belt’s power has disappeared and the San Francisco Giants need to find a way to get more value out of the first base position.
Despite his declining offensive numbers, an offseason trade is not out of the question.
In fact, there is some recent precedent for trading a first baseman on a lucrative contract with declining offensive numbers in the form of Carlos Santana.
Prior to the 2018 season, Santana signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. He then went on to post a disappointing .229/.352/.414 line for a 105 OPS+. The .229 batting average was the lowest of his career and his .766 OPS was his second-lowest mark in what would be his first and only season with the Phillies.
During the offseason, the Phillies shipped him and top prospect J.P. Crawford to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for All-Star shortstop Jean Segura, so it was not a complete salary dump and value was exchanged on both ends.
However, before Mariners fans could even purchase a Carlos Santana jersey, Seattle traded him to the Cleveland Indians in a three-team deal. It’s a move the Indians would gladly make again with Santana emerging as a legitimate AL MVP candidate thanks to a .959 OPS and 30 home runs.
Could the San Francisco Giants take a similar approach with Belt?
If new team president Farhan Zaidi has proven anything with the Mark Melancon trade, it is that moving a bloated contract is not as impossible as it may seem on the surface.
Santana is actually a great example when compared to Belt. Throughout his career, the switch-hitting Santana has posted a 122 OPS+. That figure is marginally better than the 120 OPS+ Belt has recorded throughout his career.
Unlike Santana, Belt is capable of playing more than one position, so he could appeal to National League teams as well as American League teams.
In addition to this, Santana was moved with two years and $40 million remaining on his contract. In terms of the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT), Santana’s cap hit was $20 million. After this season, Belt will be in a similar boat with two years and $34.4 million remaining on his contract. His cap hit will be $17.2 million, so the money owed would not be entirely prohibitive.
The question is whether there will be demand for Belt. It helps that the 2020 crop of free-agent first basemen is exceptionally uninspiring.
All of those guys are older than Belt, and only Abreu would really move the needle in terms of improving a team’s chances to compete.
That should bode well for the San Francisco Giants if they decide to dangle Belt in trade talks. Teams that could be speculative fits include the Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays.
So despite Belt’s poor offensive season, there is a recent precedent in trading a player of his caliber on an expensive contract. There is also reason to believe that Belt could rebound and appeal to a number of teams given his skill set.
Whether an opportunity similar to the one the Phillies took advantage of last offseason materializes remains to be seen. However, the thought of the San Francisco Giants trading Mark Melancon two months ago seemed impossible as well, and he’s now wearing an Braves uniform.