Is Brandon Belt ready for the Big Show?
No, no...not him. The Major Leagues.
There have been a number of articles written lately on that very subject (like here, and here) and a majority of them seem to say the same thing: he’s probably ready, but it’s smarter to keep him in the minor leagues for now.
I don’t agree. For months I’ve said that Belt should be the Giants’ opening day first baseman, and my opinion hasn’t changed. While those who don’t agree with me may have genuine concerns, I don’t think those concerns hold up.
Just about all the “reasons” given why Belt shouldn’t start in the big leagues aren’t reasons at all, but rather flimsy justifications. It’s akin to saying “We can’t have a picnic today, what if it rains?” while the sky is blue, or “I can’t buy those shoes, what if my toes get cut off and they don’t fit?” (Shocking that I’d use a shoe reference, I know).
There seem to be four main concerns when it comes to Belt: service time, team needs, roster questions, and general readiness. Let’s go through them all:
Limit his service time, save money down the line: This is the one I hear/see most of all. Limiting Belt’s Major League service time will push back the date when he’s eligible for salary arbitration; therefore, the Giants would save money and control him for a longer period of time.
That argument would make a lot of sense if we were talking about the Royals, the Pirates, the Indians, or any other small market team. Those are the kinds of teams that need to worry about saving money down the line and controlling their players for as long as they possibly can, since their best players are likely to bolt for greener (as in $$) pastures as soon as they hit free agency.
The Giants aren’t in this position. They’re coming off of a World Series win, will likely sell out the majority of their home games this year, and (as Buster Olney said) are flush with cash. While they may want to keep their payroll at a reasonable level, they’re not afraid to spend money. Plus by the time the Giants will have to pay big money to Belt, they’ll be free from the albatrosses collectively known as the Zito/Rowand deals. The Giants learned from those contracts and have spent their money more wisely over the past few years, so it’s probably safe to assume they won’t be handing out any more killer deals in the near future.
Lastly, the service time argument begs the question: who cares? It doesn’t make much sense to me to worry about the team’s salary structure 3 or 4 years down the line when they’re defending a championship this year. If Belt makes the team better by being on it right now, what does it matter that he’ll make more money at an earlier time? The point is to win again in 2011, not plan ahead for 2015 (plus, what an awful slogan that’d be: “Your 2011 San Francisco Giants, Planning for a Prudent Financial Future.”)
The Giants don’t need him right now: I’m sorry, what? Did I slip into a coma and miss the part where the Giants became an offensive juggernaut? No? Good, I was worried. I thought I had some crazy, coma-inducing medical condition there for a minute.
The Giants’ lineup is better than most outsiders give them credit for, but there is still some cause for concern. They have to hope for the following to happen:
- Pablo Sandoval gets back to his ’09 form
- Aubrey Huff has a repeat of last year
- Miguel Tejada has something left in the tank
- Pat Burrell rebounds from an atrocious World Series performance
- Mark DeRosa and Freddy Sanchez stay healthy
That’s a whole lot of hoping. Obviously, nothing is a given. But having a bat like Belt’s in there every day would help alleviate some of the worry that comes with a lineup so full of questions. He’d give the team another left-handed bat, which they also need, as well as provide more pop from the bottom-half (where he’d be penciled in, at least to start). It wouldn’t weaken the team defensively, either: Belt is the best defensive first baseman in the organization, and Huff (who’d take over in left) proved last year he’s more than adequate as an outfielder.
Belt would likely take playing time away from Burrell and DeRosa if he starts the season with San Francisco, and no offense to either of them but I’d rather see Belt in the lineup. Burrell may be better served as a clubhouse mentor/part time player at this point, and DeRosa is a better utility man than everyday guy. Belt is the best option of the three, both offensively and defensively.
It’s not worth the roster headache: Please. To make room for Belt, the Giants would likely part with two of the following players: Aaron Rowand, Travis Ishikawa, and Nate Schierholtz. Rowand is a lost cause, Ishikawa is a pinch-hit specialist, and Schierholtz is a defensive replacement. It’d be a toss-up between Ishikawa and Schierholtz as to who should stay, but it’s not like the Giants would be losing potential all-stars in any scenario.
He’s not ready: I’m going to sound like Bruce Jenkins here for a minute. Bear with me.
Any doubts I might have had about Belt’s readiness were erased when I saw his at bat against Mark Buehrle last week. Quickly down 0-2 in the count, Belt laid off tough pitches to work the count full before ripping a single to right. It was an impressive at bat for any left-handed batter, let alone a rookie going against a veteran like Buehrle.
Belt’s ready. He has nothing left to prove in the minors, and he’s more than held his own this spring. Just like Posey last year, Belt is ready for the big leagues right now and the club would be better with him than without him.
I hope the Giants feel the same way.