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Brandon Belt Is Richer And Still Not A Left Fielder

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Brandon Belt is a $3 million man, give or take a hundred thou. No silly arbitration fight this time around.

The question now shifts to the long term. Do the parties go year to year through 2017, perhaps with the same annual brinksmanship, or do they lock in a guaranteed deal? If they do, keep in mind there's risk, and there's risk. It's one thing to guarantee dollars up to but not beyond free agency, which is what the Giants did with Pablo Sandoval three years ago for about $17 million. It's another to commit into the free agent years, which the Braves just did to the tune of eight years, $135 million with Freddie Freeman. (Perhaps that tune sounds like this.)

Brandon Belt, who turns 26 in April, had a breakout year in 2013. Buying out his arbitration years seems low-risk, something in the neighborhood of Sandoval's deal, with a little inflation thrown in. (Or a lot: In his chat today, Baggs estimates $25 million.) But biting off a chunk of free agency, when Belt turns the corner into his 30s, seems far-fetched at this point.

How much better is Belt going to get? Or let me ask it a different way: Does he need to get much better? If he had three more years akin to 2013, that's pretty darn good (he was one of the top 20 hitters in baseball, by some measures), and the Giants would probably be happy paying around $20 million. But a LONG-term extension, at $15-to-$20 M per year, would be valuing him at that level into his early 30s. Would he deliver?

It's unknowable, of course. He might be John Olerud, who was well above league-average through his age-33 year, but he might be Willie Mays Aikens (one of Belt's comps, according to BRef), who fell off the table in his age-29 and -30 seasons and never appeared in the majors after that. OK, that's not a fair comp. But you get the idea. Really talented players hit walls in their late 20s all the time for many reasons.

Putting tea leaves aside, there's a more concrete consideration. His name is Buster Posey. (Or, as he expects the youth of America to call him, "Mr. Posey, sir.")

This is not new. We've known from the day Belt emerged that something, at some point, would have to give. Over the course of his Giant career, Posey will start to catch a lot less or give it up completely. It could be sooner than anyone wants. <tosses salt over shoulder and spits on the ground> But when the time comes, a shift is more likely to first base, not third base, as is the notion du jour what with Sandoval's potential departure.

In his late 20s, there's a chance Belt can adjust to left field. That chance decreases as he gets older. The last thing the Giants need is a Buster Posey who needs to play first base, and an expensive Brandon Belt who can't play anywhere but first base. If by now Belt had shown he could handle left field adequately, I'd be more inclined to imagine an extension into free agency. But the longer he goes without that flexibility, the less likely he'll fit into the Giants' very-very-long term plans.

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