Resigning first baseman Brandon Belt to a long-term extension has become a realistic possibility for the San Francisco Giants this offseason, especially considering the promise Belt showcased in the second half of the 2013 campaign, but more specifically because of his arbitration eligibility. The 25-year-old posted a .289 batting average with 17 home runs and 67 runs batted in last season, and was exceptionally productive after the All-Star Break.
Belt made a couple subtle adjustments at the plate to increase his ability to see pitches through the zone and more frequently drop the barrel on the ball. He tweaked his grip and sat back in the box, enhancing his power stroke, which greatly improved his numbers. Belt recorded a .901 OPS while increasing his batting average by 29 points in 221 official at-bats after the break in 2013.
Belt won’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season, but owns super-two status, which means he can officially file for arbitration this winter, despite having less than three years of big league experience. The Giants have recently prioritized locking-up their prized players before they’re able to break the bank in offseason arbitration disputes, namely Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner.
It wouldn’t be surprising for the Giants to take a similar approach with Belt, who is steadily developing into a legitimate power threat in the middle of the lineup. There’s little doubt that Belt presents big-time upside. In fact, his numbers indicate that he could potentially become one of the best first basemen in the game.
Belt has posted a solid .273/.351/.447 line in 1,252 career plate appearances. His numbers have improved on a season-to-season basis, giving the Giants added incentive to lock him up this offseason. San Francisco surely views Belt as a staple on their ball club, which leaves little reason to completely dismiss the idea of inking him to a long-term contract, especially in the face of arbitration. But the Giants shouldn’t feel hard-pressed to sign Belt to a lofty extension, in spite of super-two status.
The market value for young first basemen has already been set. According to MLBTR’s extension tracker, four players of Belt’s caliber have been granted extensions ranging from four to seven years: Billy Butler (four years, $30 million), Allen Craig (five years, $31 million), Paul Goldschmidt (five years, $32 million) and Anthony Rizzo (seven years, $41 million).
The best contract assimilation to what Belt would presumably earn is Rizzo, who also owned super-two status. The Giants can avoid a future contractual dispute by signing Belt to a long-term extension before spring training, but will be forced to pay their prized first baseman considerably more money next season, regardless.
The precedent has already been set for players like Belt, which means the Giants wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to give their No. 3 hitter a bigger contract if he performs at a peak level in 2014. But if San Francisco decides to extend Belt, it would essentially eliminate its ability to leverage his value in trade talks.
It’s highly unlikely for the Giants to trade Belt. But if they tank in 2014, re-configuring their roster could start with their awkwardly powerful first baseman. Signing Belt to a long-term extension this offseason would destroy that option.