Giants’ curious handling of Brandon Belt
When the San Francisco Giants rode their incredible pitching staff to a championship in 2010, the run was buoyed by some unexpected offensive production. Andres Torres came out of nowhere to hit 16 home runs and steal 26 bases; career journeyman Juan Uribe hit 24 homers; Pat Burrell, who appeared to be finished after hitting .202 in 96 plate appearances as Tampa Bay’s DH, somehow became rejuvenated after being picked up on waivers, hitting 18 home runs in only 289 at bats; Aubrey Huff, signed off the scrap heap for a meager $3 million, proved to be money well spent, swatting 26 home runs to go along with a stellar .385 on base percentage; and, lastly, although most baseball people foresaw stardom for Buster Posey, no one could have expected, after his May call-up, he’d finish 11th in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.
The mark of a great executive is to be proactive, not reactive, and also to be a forward thinker. General Manager Brian Sabean, despite rolling sevens on all of the above mentioned players, also has a very sketchy history. The contracts he handed to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand are two of the worst in baseball history.
However, his organization’s recent handing of Brandon Belt has been borderline criminal. While the Giants were enjoying their miracle run in 2010, Belt was annihilating triple-A pitching to the tune of a .352 average and 1.075 OPS. Belt shot up the rankings on every scouts’ prospect list and solidified himself as one of the most valuable commodities in baseball: a potential superstar bat, under team control at reasonable money for six years. Despite the fact that Huff wore down in the second half, and was basically a non-factor during the postseason run (three extra base hits in 63 at bats), Sabean still curiously gave him a two-year deal worth $22 million dollars. Huff rewarded Sabean’s generosity with a .246 average and a measly 12 home runs in 2011.
What made the Huff extension even more hurtful fans was its contribution to the Giants’ gross mishandling of Belt. Partly because of the contract, Bruce Bochy felt compelled to play Huff, usually at Belt’s expense. Let’s examine Belt’s 2011 season: He made the opening day roster ostensibly because Huff was injured; however, he was given a mere 52 at-bats before he was banished to triple-A on April 20. He wasn’t brought back until May 29, 2011, two days later he was unfortunately hit on the hand and he spent the next month recovering. When he was ready to resume playing, he wasn’t sent to San Francisco — a team that, tangentially, had such trouble scoring runs that they sent their top pitching prospect, Zach Wheeler, to the Mets for two months of Carlos Beltran, who was enjoying a renaissance season. Belt wasn’t recalled until July 19, and again — this can’t be stressed enough — the Giants had an incredible pitching staff.
They even sent Ryan Vogelsong, who disappeared for around eight years, to the All-Star game. They only needed their offense to be mediocre to ensure a return trip to the postseason. For the season, they ended up scoring a National League worst 570 runs, which ultimately was their undoing. Once again, Belt’s stay in the big leagues was short lived; two weeks later, on August 6, he was back in triple-A. This time, however, his stint in the minors only lasted a week before he was back in San Francisco on August 14, this time for good.
However, a disturbing trend quickly emerged. In September of 2011, when Belt finally got going to some degree (he hit four home runs in 59 at-bats), he was benched in the subsequent game, three out of the four times. This is absurd on all levels. For one, the Giants were still in a pennant race in September, and logic dictates playing your hottest players. Additionally, if the objective is to learn as much as possible about this kid, yo-yoing him around can only impede his development.
Fast forward to 2012. The Giants were one of the last teams to set their roster, amidst a swirl of rumors about whether Belt would make the team (the Giants floated the idea that he couldn’t get around adequately on inside fastballs). They ultimately decided to hand him the first base job and move Huff to the outfield. This experiment lasted three games. Apparently, the Giants decided that three lousy games was a sufficient sample size to bench their lone hope for a bona fide offensive superstar to pair with Posey. Since the opening three games in Arizona until Belt started on Sunday, he received a grand total of one at-bat over five games. Meanwhile, the Giants continue to give at-bats to the underwhelming Angel Pagan, and the still horrendous Huff. Maybe the Giants will end up getting what they deserve, a commodity that used to be gold and is slowly turning into worthless paper.