Contract talks appear to have opened between the San Francisco Giants and Brandon Belt, as Alex Pavlovic of CSNBayArea.com reports that GM Bobby Evans met with the first baseman on Monday to discuss a possible extension. Pavlovic adds that the possibility of a long-term deal was first broached during this offseason's arbitration process. Belt is currently scheduled to hit free agency following the 2017 season.
Over the weekend, Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reported the upcoming meeting between the two camps, while also noting the immense difficulties that will be faced in properly valuing Belt:
But what if you gathered a dozen of the Giants’ top decision makers in one room and asked them to peg a value on someone like Belt? Would they even hit the same dartboard? Which side of the rope would they grab?
Deciding on what to offer Belt may ultimately come down to how the Giants value Belt's lack of counting and traditional statistics compared to his stellar numbers demonstrated by more advanced statistics. For instance, the soon-to-be 28-year-old has yet to hit for 20 home runs or drive in 70 runs in a season, however, he has been worth at least 4.0 WAR in two of the past three seasons, and his 135 wRC+ last year ranked seventh among all major league first basemen.
Though he has yet to win a Gold Glove, Belt is also a stellar defender at first base, with approximately 8 defensive runs saved and an 8.6 UZR in 2015. However, he does have his warts, including a proneness to striking out. Certainly, the biggest concern surrounding Belt is that he has never played more than 150 games in a major league season, missing significant amounts of playing time due to various ailments including multiple concussions and a broken thumb. Belt's durability and somewhat limited track record is what should ultimately keep him from getting a deal in line with the massive nine-figure deal that the Braves gave Freddie Freeman two years ago (both Belt and Freeman are represented by Excel Sports Management).
Still, Belt has undeniably been a key part of the Giants over the last few years, playing a significant role on a pair of World Series-winning clubs in 2012 and 2014. With two years until Belt can hit the open market, the Giants are in no rush to lock him up. The injuries make Belt especially risky to invest in, however, they could stand to lose money were Belt to remain healthy and productive in 2016.
"We're exploring options," Evans said. "There's no pressure as we have him for two more years. There's no pressure, but if we have the opportunity, it'd be wise to take advantage of it. We'll see how it plays out."
The Giants spent heavily this offseason, handing out big-money contracts to Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Denard Span, and Brandon Crawford (via extension). In addition to that quartet, the Giants also owe a good deal to Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, and Matt Cain over the coming years. Still, Giants management expressed to Pavlovic that the franchise has the financial space to give Belt a notable deal. Fortunately for San Francisco, Belt is the only member of the Giants' presumable core that is projected to hit free agency over the next few offseasons, giving re-signing Belt a certain priority.