The Giants just might end up going to arbitration with Brandon Belt. It's early February, and the two sides started as far apart as they have with any Giants player since Tim Lincecum in 2010. The last time the Giants went to arbitration was with A.J. Pierzynski back in 2004, incredibly, and their argument of "just look at the guy, c'mon" was somehow unsuccessful. The organization has a distaste for the entire arbitration process, and they do a great job avoiding it. The longer we go without Belt news, though, the easier it is to imagine an arbitration hearing with him.
It's also possible the Giants will strike a two-year deal with him to avoid this mess next year, just like they did with Gregor Blanco a year ago. Giving Belt guaranteed millions before his free agent payday would seem to benefit everyone involved, and it would balance out the risk and reward for the next two seasons.
But we've been tracking the idea of a Brandon Belt extension for a couple years now, mostly because that's what you do with your favorite homegrown young players, and it's starting to become clear that he's more Pablo Sandoval than Madison Bumgarner when it comes to a long-term deal. The Giants missed their window early, and it's going to almost certainly lead to Belt leaving in two years.
Last year, we took a look at the problem with extending Brandon Belt. There were three possible outcomes for his 2015 season, and they all made an extension trickier.
- He was awful
- He had a Brandon Belt kind of season
- He enjoyed a breakout, All-Star year
The first one wouldn't have made the Giants eager for an extension, not unless they were trying to bargain shop. The second one wouldn't have made them eager for an extension, because there isn't as much upside in a market-price 32-year-old Belt as you might think. Or perhaps there's exactly as much upside in an expensive 32-year-old Belt as you think. And the third one would have made the Giants spend star money on a player who still had two years left to prove he wasn't a star.
He ending up doing the second one in 2015. He had a Brandon Belt kind of season, filled with ups and downs and getting hit with baseballs by jerks, just like we're used to. He's now a year older and a little more expensive. An extension for him would take him through his age-30 (fine), age-31 (probably fine), age-32 (uh), and age-33 (hold on). That would be a six-year extension if he signed it today, just like Brandon Crawford's.
The reason you take that risk with Crawford without blinking is because he's a Gold Glove shortstop who can hit a little. Those are marvelous, curious mythological creatures that you keep in a glass jar for as long as possible.
Belt is a first baseman who gets on base and hits for some power -- both better than his raw numbers suggest, after adjusting for his home park -- and plays solid defense. Those are great to have. But they're not so rare that it's worth risking an annual $20 million sandbag in the player's mid-30s. It's not out of the question, but it takes a little more consideration, especially if he's looking for more than what Crawford got (because of that jerk Freddie Freeman.) With the free agent market what it is, I wouldn't blame him for gambling on getting much more than Crawford.
This isn't to say that I don't want Belt back. On the contrary, if he could find a middle ground with the Giants, that would mean it's on a reasonable deal, almost by definition. The band would be together for the rest of the decade, and the Giants would have their own Yeager-Cey-Russell-Lopes-Garvey to remember, albeit one that will have a chance to win more than one lousy ring together.
But if you look at the pattern of Giants extensions, Belt doesn't quite fit. Posey was an MVP and catching deity, so of course they pounced. Bumgarner was a young, burgeoning star who had already experienced the horror of losing his fastball, so he was more amenable to a super-early extension. Crawford is a) a rare player who b) still might have had his best season, so both sides were right to meet in the middle. Belt isn't any of those.
His situation might be close to that of Hunter Pence, really. Looking back, though, it sure seems like Pence left a healthy sum on the table by avoiding the free agent market. Belt might not want to do that, and I can't blame him. Add it all up, and you have a situation that probably isn't going to result in a long-term deal.
The good news is that he's still around for two years, at least, and those should be productive, helpful years. I'm looking forward to Brandon Belt, continuing San Francisco Giant, and so should you.
Now please give me a cookie for not mentioning Buster Posey moving to first once in this entire 850-word article.