The latest rumor sheets are abuzz about the future of Aaron Judge, specifically about the Giants being a very likely landing spot. While no scientific polling has been done, it’s probable that the majority of Giants fans would be okay with that result. Judge only was able to set the new AL record for home runs, not all of MLB, but fans would probably still like having him in the orange and black.
Jokes aside, signing Judge would be a statement, to fans, players, and opponents. But the Giants will need more than one player to compete around him. They will need to build a lineup around him (and a pitching staff, of course). And that leads to what I’m sure will not be at all a controversial signing.
They should definitely bring back Brandon Belt.
Now, now, hear me out. The Giants have a lot of needs on offense, and they should sign a couple of additions. They will have some big decisions on returning players, not the least of which is third baseman Evan Longoria. But if Judge joins the Giants, Belt should be an easy decision. And here’s some reasons why.
Belt Gives Judge an OBP Source to Do More Damage With
Let’s start with the thing everyone knows about Brandon Belt: he knows the strike zone. Sometimes, unfortunately, better than some umpires. Even when he’s not hitting, Belt will still get on base at an above-average rate. That’s important since to maximize a power hitter’s value, it would be to have men on base ahead of him so that fewer of those 60 home runs are solo shots. It’s still a game of percentages, but every bit helps.
A bonus of Belt batting ahead of Judge is that as a 35-year old first baseman, he’s probably not going to attempt too many steals ahead of Judge, which will keep a few rubber chickens off the wall.
Having Judge Behind Belt Will Help Him Hit
Belt responded to getting a one-year Qualifying Offer deal with his worst pro season. Belt’s .676 OPS and .213 batting average were career lows as Belt struggled through injuries in his 2022 season. Even as he’s about to be a 35-year old hitter, it’s fair to assume that there’s going to be a certain level of a bounce-back, especially as 2020 and 2021 were the two best seasons by OPS in his career.
Still, it would help for Belt to have pitchers really trying to throw him strikes, in order to avoid what I talked about in the bullet point above. Belt knows the strike zone well, but that pitch recognition should help him swing at the pitches he can drive.
Who knows, maybe opposing pitchers will be happy as Belt hits doubles that would be home runs elsewhere, letting them walk Judge and earn a rubber chicken on the wall.
We know that in a Zaidi-Kapler world, enhancing matchups is a key goal. By giving Judge a lefty bat to pair against in the middle of the lineup will help the Giants make matchups harder for opposing teams to go for.
Sure, Judge doesn’t have significant platoon splits, and in 2022, even hit better against right-handed pitchers, but sometimes the stereotype counts more than the reality when managers are making decisions, and anything that gets Belt more at-bats against right-handed relievers late in games will definitely help him.
Belt’s Defense is Worth It
We can talk about how the Giants need more offense and need more pitching all we want, but the Giants have another need, and it was a big deal all year, but especially early in the year: defense.
At 35, Belt’s range has lost a step, but his glove is as good as ever. That’s important to have. In ways that metrics have yet to calculate, Belt catches balls that lesser first baseman would turn into errors, either on themselves or ones that would be errors on the other fielder. It was easy to see this when others were manning first base.
Keeping Belt may not improve the defense, other than him being on the field more as he is hopefully healthier. But keeping him will certainly stop the defense from getting worse, especially with an infield that may not have any newcomers to improve it.
Belt Won’t Demand a Big Contract, Allowing Someone Else to Get It
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Belt responded to getting a one-year Qualifying Offer deal with his worst pro season. Oh, and he’s going to be 35.
Belt simply isn’t going to be demanding a big contract from across baseball. There aren’t a lot of great first base options on the market, led by 36-year old José Abreu, Anthony Rizzo (if he opts out) and Josh Bell as the other top options. Belt is good enough to get a contract somewhere, but it won’t be for top dollar.
If there is any team that might be as attractive to Belt as his longtime team is, it might be the Texas Rangers. Belt is a native Texan, with his hometown Nacogdoches, about 175 miles SE of Dallas. That, and with former Giants manager Bruce Bochy now in charge of the Rangers, Belt may be attracted to the idea of a change of scenery.
As the Giants look like they may be trying to sign more than one top dollar free agent, especially between Judge and a hopefully-returning Carlos Rodón, a more budget-conscious deal for Belt would help that.
Belt Won’t Be Standing in Any Prospect’s Way
On the topic of this website, signing Belt on a short-term deal won’t put him in the way of any key prospects at first.
Honestly, the Giants don’t have much of any dedicated first base prospects in the pipeline at all, so Belt won’t get in the way of anyone. There are some minor league veterans the Giants currently have (free agent status pending), like Jason Vosler and Jason Krizan, who might otherwise be considered for playing time, but neither are busting the door down, and both player other positions as well.
The only significant prospect from the farm to think about for 2023 is David Villar, but even Villar is primarily a third baseman. Villar is a legitimate power prospect, as he set the Richmond franchise then-record home runs for a season at 20 in 2021, and then hit 27 at Sacramento before coming to the big leagues, where he had nine in 52 games. The question is whether he’ll hit enough to make the power count on a more full-time basis. But the to-be-26-year old’s future is probably more of a concern to the contract status of Longoria at third than Belt, and with Villar being a right-handed hitter, he could still support first base in more of a platooning role than competing with Belt.