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Springtime Storylines: Are the San Francisco Giants going to give Brandon Belt a chance?

Mar 29, 2012, 8:45 AM EDT

Brandon Belt

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the San Francisco Giants

The Big Question: Are they going to give Brandon Belt a chance?

One would think that a team that (a) is severely age and offensively challenged; and (b) has a young hitter who has tore the cover off the ball in the minors and has at least held his own against major league pitching despite being jerked around would; (c) give that kid an everyday job and not think twice about it. But the Giants aren’t just any team, and even now, in the last week of spring training, it appears as if the Giants are prepared to continue to jerk Brandon Belt around. There’s been talk of optioning him to Fresno.

In front of Belt at first base is the late Aubrey Huff, in the second year of a regrettable two-year deal he was given by Brian Sabean. He hit .246/.306/.370 last year. If it’s not him, it could be Brett Pill, who also had a nice season in triple-A, but who is four years older than Belt. Slated for right field, it appears, is Nate Schierholtz. Or maybe Gregor Blanco.  It’s all so murky right now.

Why the Giants seem content to let it all continue to play out and to play Belt if a position reveals itself for him — as opposed to putting their most promising young hitter in a position and working the other, lesser players around him — is frustrating as hell.  For a team that has had as much trouble developing hitting prospects as they have had, why they mess with Belt is a mystery. Maybe it’s been so long since they’ve had a hitting prospect that they just don’t know what to do with one now that they do.

What else is going on?

  • Whether Belt is a part of it or not, there is a new outfield in San Francisco, with Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan entering the mix. Pagan is probably an upgrade for San Francisco but wouldn’t be most other places. Cabrera had a nice year last year, but it was quite an outlier for him. If the outfield is going to be a plus for this team, that will have to be the new normal for Cabrera, not his career year.
  • Buster Posey is back, and that’s huge. Is he 100%? He seems fairly close to it in spring training. There have been no issues, at least. If Posey can return to 2010 form, it’s a huge boost. Even if he’s only mostly back to that level, it represents an improvement of what the Giants had behind the plate following his injury.
  • For all of that offensive uncertainty, the rotation is still the rotation. Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner are fantastic, of course. Ryan Vogelsong is not likely to repeat his shocking 2011, but he should still be above average for a fourth starter. Barry Zito is Barry Zito, but the Giants have been carrying his carcass on their back for so long that they’re used to it by now. This is obviously the team’s strength, and no matter how terrible the lineup is, it’s a rotation that can, almost by itself, keep the Giants in contention.
  • An off-the-field issue that will be simmering all year and spooking Giants fans is the contract status of Matt Cain. He’s a free agent after this season, and he’s going to be an appealing one. The Yankees, Dodgers and other moneyed teams would love to have him, but the Giants really need him.

How are they gonna do?

If everything possible breaks right — Posey is back, Pablo Sandoval maintains his production and avoids a 2010-style backslide, Bruce Bochy figures out how to fit in Belt and Pill and all of those moving parts in an ideal fashion and if Aubrey Huff bounces back to be at least useful — this team can win the division. But that’s a lot of ifs, and if this team’s most likely level of performance comes to pass — great pitching and sharply sub-par offense — it’s a second place team at best.

  1. Kevin S. - Mar 29, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    While I’m all for piling on the Giants’ handling of Brandon Belt, they did just have Buster Posey come through a year earlier. And while yes, they made him switch positions until they could dump the aging veteran blocking his way, they also brought him up and just let him hit. Why is it so hard to do that with Belt?

    • hittfamily - Mar 29, 2012 at 11:08 AM

      Posey came out of FSU MLB ready as a hitter. He had only been catching for 2 years though, so he needed to learn the defensive craft. They neglected to teach him 1 very important lesson. The Giants deserve very little credit in his development, and a tremendous amount of criticism if he is never the same.

  2. joecool16280 - Mar 29, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    Don’t forget that Pablo had Lasik surgery…a .307 hitter could become a .325-330 hitter like that.

    • hittfamily - Mar 29, 2012 at 11:10 AM

      Kotchmann as well. It earned him a multi year contract after signing a minor league deal.

  3. paperlions - Mar 29, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    I think they’ll give Belt a chance. They’ll sign him to a 3 year deal in 12 years and insist on playing him instead of a clearly better 23 yr old.

  4. Gamera the Brave - Mar 29, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    Sabean and Bochy give me a headache when it comes to Belt.
    I get the “Well, he’s a veteran and he’s making the big bucks, so we feel obligated to play him” argument to a point, but if Huff starts slowly, they simply have to pull the plug, and eat that salary, in the interest of winning the NL West. They can do it if Panda hits .300, Posey hits .290, Melky hits .280, Scheirholtz hits .270, Belt/Huff/Pill hits .260, and Crawford hits .250. I have a sneaky feeling that Crawford will hit a fair bit better than he did in the show last year, and if he is just not an anchor at bat we have a shot.
    Frankly, I am most worried about Freddy Sanchez – we have a real issue at second base, if Freddy can’t turn two…

    • blabidibla - Mar 29, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      Right now Freddie can’t turn one.

  5. Gamera the Brave - Mar 29, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    I know, there’s talk that he never will, leaving us with Fontenot and Theriot, neither of which are palatable, and are both apparently being shopped as trade bait.

    Hey! Let’s move Huff to second! I’m sure he can’t do worse than he did in right field last year…

  6. Tick - Mar 29, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    LET BRANDON BELT PLAY!!!!/LetBeltPlay!/LetBrandonBeltPlay

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