I love Brandon Belt. I am happy he plays for my favorite baseball team.
Despite his OPS taking a nosedive over the past 37 games (starting in Cincinnati -- what is it with the Great American Ballpark depressing the Giants every regular season?), Brandon Belt remains the second best hitter on the team. He’s a left-handed doubles hitter who knows how to work a count and he plays great defense at first base. He’s a potential All Star every season.
He has tremendous value. But the Giants are on pace to lose 100 games even with him in the lineup. They’re failing tremendously with their core players. The competitive window has clearly slammed shut.
I promise this next bit goes somewhere.
In the fourth season finale of The West Wing, the President’s daughter has been kidnapped and his staff are forced to consider the possibility that he’ll need to invoke the 25th Amendment, temporarily removing him from power. But there are some issues with that: there isn’t a Vice President at the moment (he had resigned due to a scandal), so the next in line would be the staunchly conservative Republican Speaker of the House. It would be an extraordinary political act for a President to step down and hand over executive power to the opposition party and who knows what the Republicans would do with that power in the middle of a national crisis. But after Toby Ziegler, the President’s communications director, meets his newborn twins for the first time, the deliberation ends:
TOBY: The President’s gotta get out of the West Wing. I don’t know what we’ve been thinking... if somebody was hurting [my kids], I’d drop napalm on Yellowstone to get them to stop. Letting some prisoners out of jail wouldn’t be nothing and I’ve known my kids for about forty-five minutes.
The Giants should be Toby Ziegler in this scenario and the newborn twins the Giants’ 100-loss pace. The sudden, stark realization they should be having in the face of meeting this 100-loss pace is that now is the time to rebuild. The West Wing President in the above example is the legacy of 2010, 2012, 2014.
It should not be about protecting that legacy. It should be about protecting the future of the organization. On the most recent McCovey Chroncast (the excellent podcast you should all be listening to), I asked our own Doug Bruzzone if he thought the Giants’ present situation was more alike than unlike the situations in Minnesota and Atlanta (where both teams switched GMs and wound up losing 100 games soon after). Doug’s response? The Giants feel more like the Ruben Amaro Phillies. That was an organization that won 1 World Series and held that core together for as long as possible to try to get another one. Then they waited too long to move any of their legacy guys, long past the point of their value, and somewhere in there Ryan Howard got a 5-year extension, so, it’s not a 1:1 situation, but at the same time, there are similarities.
Bobby Evans and Larry Baer are trying to hold the marketing plan together, but the plan should be about success, not familiar faces.
I love Brandon Belt. My affinity for him goes beyond what he does on the field, too. He has a fun public persona — that affable, dorky charm few baseball players have or would ever publicly express lest they look unmacho. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and from the outside looking in, he’s a good teammate. He has been a key part of the Giants’ recent history. Trading him won’t erase those memories.
They’ll never trade Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, or Brandon Crawford. Johnny Cueto has pitched himself into purgatory (never mind his opt out). Matt Moore is a nightmare. Jeff Samardzija has performed almost exactly as expected and the Giants need somebody in the rotation. Eduardo Nunez is likely to be moved, but he won’t bring back what Belt would. Why?
Brandon Belt is 29.
Traditionally, this is the tail end of a career peak, but he’s a freshly-turned 29 so he’ll have value for this season and beyond. He also has 4 years of cost certainty built in beyond 2017 ($17.2 million/year 2018-2021). AT&T Park makes left-handed hitters look like Justin Ruggiano strapped to Gorkys Hernandez. His walks and strikeouts won’t turn into home runs, but some of those doubles and flyouts will.
He’s not young by baseball standards, but he’s not old yet, either. He’s on the precipice of his age being taken into consideration but not just yet. His skill set is valued by every team in the league.
The Giants need more talent and flipping one of their most talented for multiple talented players just makes sense.
Houston - Yuli Gurriel gets pushed to DH and Carlos Beltran becomes more of a part-timer at DH. Belt gets to play in his home state
Los Anaheimgeles Angeles Anaheims of Angels - Belt would be an upgrade over CJ Cron and/or Luis Valbuena (Pujols is a DH only now).
Oakland -. Okay, so, this would never happen. BUT, it would be creative. The A’s will likely lose Yonder Alonso in the offseason and Belt’s cost certainty makes him attractive and, even for the A’s, affordable.
None of the above teams might have much in terms of tradeable talent the Giants could use, of course, but there is a team where perhaps there are pieces the Giants would want and, more importantly, would be desperate for a player like Belt:
The Yankees - This makes the most sense. Short porch. Short porch. Short porch. Short porch. Chris Carter and Rob Refsnyder(!) are the current first basemen on the depth chart while Greg Bird continues the shuttle from bench to disabled list. Short porch. The Giants could keep most or all of Belt’s salary for this season so the Yankees stay under the cap, and with the Yankees’ almost ~$100 million in salary coming of the books for 2018, Belt’s $8.4 million jump in salary for ages 30-33 will not push them to the luxury tax limit and they get a reliable player who can brutalize that sweet, sweet short porch.
I’ve tried to present the rationale for trading Brandon Belt and I think it’s clear the Giants would be dumb to keep him, given their circumstances. But rooting for a team defies rationality. It has to, otherwise, professional sports would cease to exist.
So, then, you’re probably thinking this is a dumb idea. And I’m an idiot for suggesting it.
Emotionally, it makes no sense to get rid of popular, productive players who still have a lot of baseball left in them, but the first base position isn’t sacrosanct. If the Giants are willing to throw out Aaron Hill and bags of garbage in left field and Michael Morse at first base, then Belt’s defense isn’t going to be the thing that makes him stick. And since nobody can hit at AT&T Park and the organization has pushed onto the fan base the idea that Belt’s offense has been a disappointment at times, then his bat isn’t going to be missed as much as you think, either.
But here’s something else to consider: Keeping Belt in hopes that he’s a part of the next great Giants team runs the risk of keeping him through his decline phase and into uselessness should the rebuild take longer than expected. Would the pain of holding onto him while he’s bad and the team is bad last longer than the pain of trading him away to make the team better sooner?
From the Giants’ perspective, they’re going to take a huge PR hit this year no matter what they do. Is losing 100 games the easier hit to absorb than trading away a semi-popular player, especially if they can tout the trade as setting up another streak of excellence?
I say Belt is semi-popular because once or twice a year, the Giants trot out people on their payroll to publicly criticize Brandon Belt for not carrying the team. From a strategic perspective, trading him away removes their annual scapegoat, but from a publicity standpoint a trade might actually address a concern of some Giants fans. And, again, if they trade him, assuming they don’t botch the trade, they can easily push the idea that in this lost season they made a big move to get better in a hurry.
Finally, they need to find a place to stash Buster Posey’s bat for these key decline years he’s entering. He’s still their best overall hitter and the only possible way to sustain that, short of signing (when free agent power hitters won’t come to San Francisco), trading for (when the farm system doesn’t have enough to bring back much in return) or developing a middle of the lineup bat (which they haven’t been able to do since Will Clark, unless you wanna be mean and count Adam Duvall), is to shift him over to a position that won’t destroy his body and that swing so fast. He might want to keep catching, but the team that pays him will have the final say.
I love Brandon Belt, but I love the Giants more, and the organization’s degree of sentimentality should go exactly that far.
Yes, this is a bummer article. Look at the standings.