The past couple days, there have been some vague, general rumblings of a Brandon Belt trade. We haven’t paid much mind to them because the possibility of a Belt trade is rather low. Belt has a limited no-trade clause that he’s able to modify year-to-year.
Rumor has it, Belt doesn’t want to be traded, so he purposefully fills the clause with contending teams that have an opening at first. The remaining teams tend to be bad teams that aren’t in the market for a pricy first baseman or who have an established first baseman. This stops trade talks before they’re able to begin.
But Hank Schulman has some specific rumblings of a Brandon Belt trade.
... attracting some interest in Vegas. Generally I doubt Zaidi would want to acquire potential 2019 FAs, but if #SFGIants can gain financial flexibility, who knows? And remember, Zaidi had a boss in Oakland who taught him how to acquire older players then flip them at deadline.— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) December 12, 2018
The White Sox are a bad team with an established first baseman, so Belt probably didn’t include them on his no-trade list. This means that a Belt-for-Abreu is possible. Is it probable? Well, no. Pretty much any Belt trade is unlikely at this point.
Belt’s contract isn’t an albatross, but it isn’t team friendly either. Belt’s getting paid about what he would expect to receive on the market, so there are two likely scenarios. One, a team takes Belt’s contract along with prospects. In return, the Giants free up some payroll and maybe get some low-impact pieces in return. I’d have to think the priority for Farhan Zaidi is replenishing the farm system over creating some payroll space. Dropping Belt’s contract would serve the latter, but at the detriment of the farm.
The Giants could also pay part of Belt’s salary and get prospects in return. That helps the farm but doesn’t help the payroll. Even if the Giants could work out a palatable trade scenario in one of these two modes, remember, Belt has his no-trade clause.
However, the scenario that Schulman is suggesting is that the Giants pick up Abreu with the intent of flipping him at the deadline for prospects. The White Sox benefit because they get a long-term solution at first that will make roughly what Abreu will this year, and the Giants benefit because they get back a player that’s easier to trade, and they free up some salary space. It theoretically restocks the farm while alleviating payroll in 2020 and 2021. It’s one of the few options Zaidi likely has if he wants to trade Belt, and it’s just crazy enough to work.
It’s not without its risks though. If Abreu gets hurt or has a down year, it’s going to be hard or impossible to flip him at the deadline. There’s also the added side effect of having to watch Brandon Belt hit 40 dingers at Guaranteed Rate Field which he absolutely will do.
Do I think this will happen? No. Do I want this to happen? Also no. You can take Brandon Belt away from my cold, dead hands. As much as I enjoy my team doing crafty transactional things to create surplus value, I enjoy watching my favorite players more, and this isn’t a move that’s guaranteed to work. Still, I think it’s an interesting scenario even if it’s more of a thought exercise than anything.