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Thinking Big Picture: Brandon Belt

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The longtime Giants first baseman is entering the final year of a 5-year/$72.8 million deal and could be a hot commodity come the trade deadline.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Francisco Giants Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Call it or crazy or call it reasonable, and either would be appropriate and understood with regards to the idea of the Marlins acquiring Brandon Belt at the trade deadline.

The longtime Giants first baseman is entering the final year of a 5-year/$72.8 million deal.

Let’s first begin our trek on the side where this initially pondered ‘novel’ idea comes off as utter lunacy; the Marlins enter 2021 with two players—Garrett Cooper and Jesús Aguilar—more than capable of manning the position to which Belt occupies.

From a financial standpoint, Belt is set to make $17.2 million in 2021. Cooper and Aguilar will make a hair over a third of that ($6.1 million) for the entirety of the season. Were Miami to acquire Belt at the deadline, they would be on the hook for $5.8 million for the remainder of the season.

The lack of a universal DH and nulled expanded playoff format for 2021 may be a door-shutter on the idea alone. Early struggles that plunge the Fish out of contention may force organizational higher-ups to shift their focus to player development in order to further cement the next core of winning baseball in Miami.

Age-wise, it’s also seems to be an awkward fit at first glance. Belt turns 33 on April 20 and should be expected to regress in the coming years.

This is where we venture into what makes this feasible for the team to inquire on Belt’s services.

While, yes, paying the baseball-equivalent for two months of a player’s services that you would for two players capable of performing the same job may go against the grain of how most front offices think and function.

Belt, who, as noted, is entering the final year of a contract, would be merely a rental with a proven track record of performance.

For his career, Belt, while not a prototypical first baseman in the sense of hitting for power, owns an adjusted OPS+ of 122, thanks in large part to his plate discipline. Since the start of 2015, Belt’s .363 on-base percentage ranks 6th among all qualified first basemen, as does his 16.5 rWAR (baseball-reference).

Belt’s .425 OBP in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, a career-best, ranked 2nd among all first basemen with at least 75 percent of their games at the position, trailing only NL MVP Freddie Freeman (.462). His 1.015 OPS and 178 OPS+ also ranked second among all qualified first baseman in 2020. The Texas-native’s strong performance in 2020 was highlighted by a career-best Barrel% of 16.8, a mark which ranked in the top 4 percent of the sport according to Baseball Savant.

For Cooper and Aguilar, injuries and inconsistent play have hurt their chances of consistent playing time.

More impressive is the fact that Belt’s offensive production has come in a ballpark, Oracle Park, that caters more to pitchers.

Oracle Park, SF, CA 2020 Park Factors
Swish Analytics

The sheer open landscape of the National League East, which may hold claim to the title of best division in baseball, could further entice the front office to give mind the acquiring Belt as a short-term option that could help the team should it be in contention for repeat October appearances. It doesn’t hurt either knowing Belt was the starting first baseman on multiple World Series-winning teams, winning in 2012 and ‘14, respectively.

Should Cooper and Aguilar play up to their rock-solid forecast, trading for Belt quickly becomes that of past-speculation...but if the opportunity is there to acquire premium talent, wouldn’t you jump at that?