As I type this I would wager that most -- maybe as high as 90 percent -- want the Giants to call up the organization's top prospect, 1B Brandon Belt, and to greatly reduce Aubrey Huff's role, either to platoon status where Huff would start against lefties only, or to bench him completely and reduce him to pinch-hitter extraordinaire.
It certainly is difficult, perhaps even foolish at this point, to mount any kind of defense for Huff -- he has been a complete disaster this season. However, I think the issue of bringing Belt up and benching Huff is a complicated one, and I'll try my best to explain why after the jump.At the risk of sounding naive, I really do believe the Giants brass when it comes to their stated intentions for Belt. They don't view him as some glorified AAAA player like Manny Burriss or Dan Runzler, forever doomed to be taking the back-and-forth Fresno shuttle until they run out of options. I think they regard him, if not as highly as they regarded Buster Posey, just a notch below that and are convinced he's going to be a big part of their future in upcoming seasons. When they broke camp with him on their roster I think they fully intended to have him be the starting first baseman the whole year and while it wasn't too surprising that the youngster struggled early and had to be sent back down for more seasoning, I think the team's brass was still a bit disappointed that they had to take that step.
I think Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean don't want to look at Belt as some pinch-hitter or fill-in starter. I think they agree that when he comes up next time, they'd very much like it to be for good, and as a full-time regular. It's the only way he'll ever develop to his full potential, if he ever will.
Is it that simple though?
At the beginning of the year there were more options. Not only did Cody Ross start the year on the DL, but there were only two guaranteed outfield spots. Nothing was ever promised to Pat Burrell, whose defense was so below par that it was always understood that he'd have to hit early and often to hold down his job. Belt started the year at first and Huff was in right, where he was atrocious. Once Ross came back, there was some thought that Cody could play right and Huff in left, but really by then Belt was hitting so poorly that there wasn't much of a reason to justify playing him over Burrell and he was sent down.
Now Burrell is on the DL and almost completely out of the picture (though his stats aren't that bad, really). It would seem the time is right to call Belt back up, right?
C - Whiteside ($425,000)
1B - Belt (> $300,000)
2B - Fontenot ($1,050,000)
SS - Crawford (> $300,000)
3B - Sandoval ($500,000)
LF - Ross ($6,300,000)
CF - Torres ($2,200,000)
RF - Schierholtz ($432,500)
You add that up and the whole lineup is making about $11.5 million this season, or about as much as Huff is making by himself. Add to that Aaron Rowand's $13.6 million and Miguel Tejada's $6.5 million and now you've got nearly $32 million dollars wasting away on the bench. Add to that Barry Zito's $18.5 million if and when Jonathan Sanchez comes off the DL to take back his spot in the rotation and that's over $50 million of Brian Sabean FAIL.
I just don't think it's very realistic for them to bench so many expensive players. It makes them look like idiots for signing these guys in the first place. Now obviously Sabean deserves credit for having so many useful cheap players, but on some level they do exacerbate all the missteps he's taken on the free agent market. You bench Huff and all of a sudden damn near half the Giants payroll is tied up in guys that they're not using most games.
That's not to say Belt doesn't deserve to be called up. I think if everything was equal he should be up here, proving he belongs. But back in April that didn't mean benching Huff, which was, at the time, an unthinkable notion. It was simply a matter of moving Huff to a corner outfield spot. Now not only can you bench Ross, who's done nothing to deserve that fate, but really you can't sit Schierholtz either, not when he's been one of the few bright spots in the lineup while also helping on the other side of the ball by being one of the few plus-gloves on the team. It sure would be convenient if Belt could play catcher or in the middle of the infield (or if Huff could) but he doesn't.
So, if I'm reading the situation correctly, fans here want Huff, a guy who's signed through 2012, to be benched, even though we have no guarantee whatsoever that Belt will be any kind of improvement -- the early returns in April, albeit with only 66 plate appearances, weren't very promising.
What would that mean going forward? "Hey Aubrey, I know we benched you for the last 60 games of 2011, but since we couldn't deal you in the off-season we're hoping you'll compete in spring training for the starting left fielder job. Yeah, we were hoping Cody would be playing here too, but we couldn't afford to re-sign him because of your salary."
Or what if Posey returns but with the limitation that he can only be a first baseman from this point forward, pushing Belt to left field. Where does that leave Huff then? Either as an awful 35-year-old right fielder playing six innings a game in front of a grumpy Schierholtz who'll be wondering what he did wrong, or on the bench alongside the similarly eight-figure compensated Rowand on the bench. Fabulous.
I think what I'm trying to say is that the best move for the organization is one that we haven't seriously considered at MCC, and one that will make me even more of a pariah here than I already am. I think the team should strongly consider trading Brandon Belt if they can get Jose Reyes for him. I think it makes sense on a number of levels. No matter how promising Belt's bat is, teams can always find first basemen and corner outfielders easier than quality middle infielders and catchers. For all we know our first baseman of the future is, by necessity, the guy with the cast on his left foot.
I think we made our bed when we re-signed Huff. Obviously now it looks like a bad signing but it was still one we had to make at the time and one I won't blame Sabean for making at all. For better or worse we're married to Huff for a while longer. And while Rowand and Tejada and Zito have all taken their turns being frozen out of the picture here and there, there are only so many guys we can sit without making the team's brass look like a ship of fools.
If we can somehow get Reyes even as a rental, I think we can do enough to convince him to re-sign here long term. We'd have the payroll flexibility first of all, thanks to all these sellouts, and I think he would like the clubhouse and the winning culture of the team after playing for all these dog Mets teams for so many years. He'd probably like the relaxed media environment too.
The fact is we really don't know whether Belt will be good anyway. I know we all want him to be the next Will Clark, but odds are he won't be. He plays a very easily-filled position and his situation plugs up quite a few other guys. If we can use him to shore up our hole at shortstop for a few years and give our team a legit leadoff hitter to boot, why not do it?