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Brandon Belt and the service-time bogeyman

When I get four or five burgers for dinner every night, I ask for an extra styrofoam container for each one. You know, to put the pickles in before I throw them away. I fire up my Hummer and drive to my mailbox when it’s cold because, hey, it’s cold. That’s forty feet I won’t have to walk in the cold. I do these things to make my life easier, and I don’t feel bad about doing them because there will always be more. There’s always going to be styrofoam and a place to dump trash, and there are always going to be sweet, sweet fossil fuels to power my gigantic car. I know this because I’ve never gone to a styrofoam store that was out of stock, my trash always goes somewhere, and there’s always gas when I want it. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it always will be.

So maybe this unique and non-odious American perspective is dictating how I think about my baseball team. Because when I think about whether or not the Giants should keep a prospect on the major league roster, I don’t give more than a passing thought to his arbitration clock. Don’t care too much what he’ll be paid in six years. The only real concern: is he better than any of the players starting above him? I don’t think about free agency in the future because, hey, there’s always more money and prospects, right? Right?

There are shades of gray with Brandon Belt. It’s not like the Giants are running Eugenio Velez out to left every day; if last year’s Pat Burrell shows up again, the Giants are doing just swell. And if long stretches on the bench really do sap Burrell’s ability to hit -- as he thinks they did when he was a DH -- there’s not a lot of value in making Burrell a fourth outfielder. There is a sound baseball argument to make in favor of starting Belt in Fresno if you want one.

If there weren’t, though, it would be negligent to keep him in the minors to save money. That is, potentially to save money, maybe, possibly, if everything works out as it should, several years down the road. That philosophy transcends logic and prudence, moving into some weird beancounting cult territory. In 2011, the Giants will play 162 games or so. There’s a decent chance that the difference between the Giants making or not making the playoffs will be a single game. It’s ludicrous to not put the best starting lineup or rotation on the field for two months because you’re worried about saving clams several years down the road. That future team you’re so worried about might feature the Jose Castillo and latter-day Randy Winn of 2016, a group so devoid of talent that an extra $30M might not make a difference, whereas the 2011 Giants seem like a team that’s ready to defend a championship. Now, now, now. Use that talent now if you think it can help.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the Giants think the same way. They took a lot of guff -- sass, even -- for starting Buster Posey in the minors last year, possibly to save a few bucks. But that narrative never rang true to me. Why would the Giants fret about a future arbitration award that was two or three years away, and then turn right around to give a $4.5M contract to a non-Posey catcher? It’s not like the Giants gave the starting catching job to a dollar-store acquisition. They paid retail. They were just worried about Posey’s ability to pitcher-whisper and hold up for a 162-game season. I’d complain about how they were wrong, but whatever they did, a World Series win came out of it1, so I’ll shut my yap. Based on the dual Bumgarner/Posey call-up from 2009, I’d say the Giants are looking for the best 25 players they can scrounge up, future paydays be damned.

That’s the way to do it. Maybe Brandon Belt makes sense for this roster, and maybe he doesn’t. Maybe Gary Brown is ready in 2013, and maybe he isn’t. All I ask is that the starting lineup and rotation is filled with the best players in the organization. Is that so short-sighted? Why worry about the future when now is going on all now and junk? U.S.A! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

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