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The return of Late-Night?

With Brandon Belt’s departure, LaMonte Wade Jr. is looking at more playing time at first base and an opportunity to bounce back after a disappointing 2022.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Francisco Giants D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

After 12 years in a San Francisco Giants uniform, Brandon Belt has signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Last September, this news would’ve been met with a solemn nod of approval: bitter that the Belt years were over, but, with age and chronic injury, certain it was time.

Now, after the free agent fandango that Giants fans went through this offseason, some are not so sure.

The roster tilts heavily to the starboard side after the Captain’s departure and the only meaningful position player additions to the roster are two hobbled outfielders looking to prove they can stand on their own two legs—so why not throw in Belt for that as well? He’d fit right in, give us some laughs, and maybe pull a Posey and close out his tenure in San Francisco with a classic Belt showcase of long at-bats, disapproving gum chewing when called out on borderline strikes, long drives towards right-center that never seem safe from a glove no matter how hard they’re hit, before getting hit in the crotch with a mid-nineties sinker after inexplicably squaring to bunt with a .900+ OPS.

What I’m saying is with all the uncertainty of the 2023 season, right now I’ll take the exasperating and hilarious certainty of Belt (granted the issue of “certainty” around our first baseman spawned one of the greatest fan feud of all time…)

But this offseason has taught us that Farhan Zaidi is not risk averse, he just only takes risks when they’ve been logicked through, worked down, coated in contingencies and balanced out into little risk skittles rather than brick-y risk jawbreakers. Carlos Correa vibrating leg plate threw the scales, while Brandon Belt’s age and injuries weren’t worth the at-bats he’d take from younger, talented players the Giants want to develop.

You can disagree with Zaidi’s thinking, but you probably won’t win an argument. That’s fine, life isn’t a competition, except , you know, when it is.

So again: Who’s on first? Meeting with reporters after Belt’s departure, Zaidi spotlighted LaMonte Wade Jr. as someone, with the new shift restrictions, a clean bill of health, and the athleticism he already displayed in the field, the organization was still very “high on” to fill the role.

This isn’t a shock—we saw this coupled with a Wilmer Flores/J.D. Davis righty platoon in September of 2022 when Belt’s knee ended his Giants career—it’s just not the most exciting or comforting plan. The Wade solution doesn’t solve the problem for most, but complicates it.

But let’s try to pump the brakes on our cynicism, bite our skeptic’s tongue, and breathe in deep. Relax—because somewhere buried in your dresser is a game giveaway LaMonte Wade Jr. t-shirt from the throes of the Late-Night high of 2021. Go to it. Put it on and be transported to a better, simpler time when every note played was in key, every button pushed nuclear—but in a home run kind of way.

Brandon Crawford’s career year, Buster Posey’s resurgence after missing 2020, Belt’s captaincy, Ruf’s right-handed power—the rise of LaMonte Wade Jr. is just one note on a long list of seemingly impossibly magical things that charmed ‘21.

A Wade swing reigned boos down upon Kenley Jansen; it rescued a game in the 9th against the middling Diamondbacks, in the 9th against the A’s, in the 9th against the Rockies, in the 9th against the Padres, in extras against the Brewers

In a season of 107 wins division, Wade stamped his “W” on plenty. He logged an 1.050 OPS against the Los Angeles Dodgers; his 1.560 OPS in high leverage situations (according to Fangraphs) earned him a nickname. He only had 381 plate appearances in ‘21 but he still put together an 11 minute highlight reel—and not every clip was a 9th inning RBI single or a curvy mash floating over the right field wall, either. There is opposite field power, line drives down the line, strong throws from the outfield, diving plays at first and in right.

He launched a baseball over his mom watching on the right field arcade and we all cheered because we were all mothers, all going bananas as our cupped chick un-wet its wings and flew. This righteous feeling was never going to end because we were outside of ourselves, outside of time, outside of beginnings and endings—the entire body of Giant fandom were all cocooned in one undulating groove from April to October, the year of our Lord, blessed 2021.

But the groove ended. After every high, there’s a come down. Every late-night is followed by morning. 2021 feels frighteningly long ago after 2022, especially for Wade.

A spring training left-knee injury started him on the injured list in 2022. He didn’t play his first game until May, and spent an additional month on the injured list after re-aggravating the knee. Consistent playing time eluded him until July, when he looked overwhelmed at the plate. His bat speed seemed flat, struggling to catch up to fast balls he feasted on the previous season, while defensive positioning choked contact to his pull side.

He helped patch up the hole at first base left by Brandon Belt at the end of the season, but he didn’t look great doing it. Pestering injuries like hip-tightness and side-tightness and an elbow contusion scratched him off game rosters. All in all, his 2022 season was trimmed to 77 games and 251 plate appearances. There was decline in pretty much every offensive category. His OPS in high leverage situations: .468.

The 2022 highlight reel is half the run time and lacks a certain energy. The pop from the bat isn’t as loud, the late-inning heroics non-existent. This is the LaMonte Wade Jr. I remember. Compared to 2021, the sequel isn’t up to scratch. It just lacks something—like Magical Mystery Tour after Sergeant Pepper’s.

Who knows what Wade the Giants will get in 2023? Players bounce back from injuries and players stay deflated after them. Cody Bellinger left his swing in Dallas two years ago and still hasn’t found it.

A bad knee can be an Achilles heel to a power hitter. During a radio interview before flying Blue Jay Way, Belt talked extensively about how finicky his knee injury was, how the recurring swelling left him in pain and sapped the joint of any strength, subsequently draining him of his ability to drive a baseball.

Wade isn’t on the roster to slap singles, he’s there to rope a baseball. In other words, he’s there to be Brandon Belt—which is to get on base and hit for power. He’s also there to not be Brandon Belt and stay healthy and young forever—something he has already failed at by continuing to age. Come on LaMonte! A forgivable sin if his knee can hold up.

If...if...if—right now, Wade is just another Giants player covered in a hive of conditions and conjunctions. Re-living 2021 is getting more and more ridiculous as the years march on. Still, it feels longer ago than it is, and I’m glad Zaidi hasn’t come down from the Wade high. After watching and re-watching LaMonte in 2021, I’m cautiously climbing back up the mountain, anxious for the return of Late-night. All we can do is wait until spring.