The San Francisco Giants haven’t reached a deal to avoid arbitration with Brandon Belt as Spring Training officially heats up, but the slugging first baseman could be on the brink of earning a long-term contract. Belt is a franchise cornerstone for the Giants. He demonstrated the ability to dominate opposing pitchers in the middle of the lineup in the second half of last season, registering a .326 batting average with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in 72 games.
The Giants remain distant in terms of dollar signs on a new contract for Belt, who reached Super-2 status at the conclusion of the 2013 campaign, which means he was able to file for arbitration before completing three full seasons of major league service. According to Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants offered their highly coveted first baseman $2.05 million for the 2014 season. Belt countered with a $3.6 million request.
The fact that San Francisco hadn’t prepared a long-term contract extension for a predetermined situation which they knew would occur is intriguing. Belt has the potential to develop into one of the premier players at his position in baseball, considering how well his defensive skills complement his gap-to-gap power at the plate. Belt is preparing himself for a legitimate breakout season, one of which doesn’t include ugly bouts of inconsistency like he endured in 2013.
At 25-years old, Belt has significant room for improvement. The two subtle mechanical adjustments he made midway through the season last year paid enormous dividends. Belt altered his stance by simply moving back in the batter’s box, allowing himself an extra split-second to react to the ball as it approaches the plate, and also tweaked his grip. Those changes resulted in a second-half explosion which saw Belt climb to the no. 3 spot in the Giants’ everyday lineup.
The Giants don’t appear willing to give Belt a long-term deal, a service they’ve previously extended to key franchise players such as Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. This decision, or rather “indecision,” could be a fallout ploy by the Giants’ front office. The Giants will likely reach a middle ground with Belt sometime before they vacate their Spring Training facilities in Scottsdale, but that brand of compromise is simply a stop-gap solution.
If Belt continues to post solid numbers in 2014, his stock value will rise, which means he’d become more expensive in arbitration talks next offseason.
It’s highly possible that San Francisco doesn’t want to extend Belt a long-term contract for a variety of reasons. The most plausible is that he still hasn’t performed at a high level for an entire season. But, it’s also possible that the front office thinks of Belt as a valuable trade commodity if the Giants fail to contend this summer.
It wouldn’t make sense to sign Belt, the most talented first baseman the Giants have had since J.T. Snow, to a long-term deal if they have thoughts of using him as trade bait.
The Giants’ farm system isn’t exactly flush with big league position talent, which means trading Belt in the midst of another bad season wouldn’t be catastrophic to their future success. GM Brian Sabean, the longest tenured GM in MLB, famously stated, “I’m not an idiot” after dealing fan favorite Matt Williams in 1996. He wouldn’t be an idiot this time, either.