Saturday, March 12, 2016

Thoughts on a Contract Extension for Brandon Belt

I was reading through the MBLTR chat yesterday and there seemed to be a lot of questions about a possible contract extension for Brandon Belt.  That prompted a question in my mind, which prompted an idea for a post.  Should the Giants want to sign a contract extension with Brandon Belt?  Let's break it down.

Brandon Belt is entering his 5'th season of MLB service time.  He and the Giants recently avoided arbitration by agreeing to a 1 year/$6.2 M contract.  He will be arbitration eligible again next year and then be eligible for free agency in 2018, a season which looks like it could be a buyers market with many top notch players coming eligible.  The Giants are generally resourceful in keeping players they really want out of free agency even going so far as to sign Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum in the "window" of exclusive negotiation rights with the players days away from hitting the open market.  Realistically, though, if Belt starts the 2017 season without a long term contract, he will most likely become a free agent at the end of the season.

One big barrier to a Belt extension so far is his own inconsistency in both staying healthy and on-field performance, which makes it difficult to set a value on his performance.  Here is a list of his season performances starting with his rookie season, 2011:

2011:  63 G, 209 PA, 0.6 fWAR.
2012:  145 G, 472 PA, 1.7 fWAR.
2013:  150 G, 571 PA, 4.4 fWAR.
2014:  61 G, 235 PA, 0.9 fWAR.
2015:  137 G, 556 PA, 4.3 fWAR.

It is easy to see why Belt and his advisors believe he is a 4+ fWAR player with potential for more while the Giants look at that record and see a lot of risk in a long term deal.

Another way of looking at it is Belt has averaged 3.6 fWAR per 600 PA's over his career including the adjustment to MLB of 2011 and 2012.  His injuries, while relatively frequent, have always been ones with full recovery expectations and ones that are not likely to recur.  In that sense, a long term contract should have a high probability of providing a healthy return on investment.

A big downside of any long term contract is the possibility that it may hinder organizational flexibility in the future.  Right now, the Giants have 4 long term commitments on the books:  Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto.  Cueto's contract has an opt-out after 2 years so may end up being a shorter term deal.  Matt Cain and Hunter Pence are on large long-term deals but they have 2 and 3 years left respectively, so have now changed into shorter term commitments.  The Giants have one of the strongest revenue streams in all of MLB and with the "Luxury Tax" cap likely to rise significantly after this season, they are in good shape to take on at least 1 more big long term deal.

Another way of hindering organizational flexibility is in the blocking of possible future players from the position.  This may be more of a barrier to the Giants wanting a longterm deal than the money.  While there are no plans to move Buster Posey to 1B in the near future, he is also probably 1 hard foul tip away from having to make the move at any time.  Do the Giants want be saddled with a long termer for Belt when and if that event happens?   Giants management is already starting to wrestle with where Christian Arroyo is going to play in the future.  Starting position spots on the roster are filling up fast with the emergence of Joe Panik and Matt Duffy as young stars and 2B and 3B.  1B is one position Arroyo could conceivably play, although he does not have ideal height for that job.  Beyond that there is Chris Shaw, who may have more usable power than Belt, but will probably never be the fielder Belt is, which is second best, statistically, in the NL.

As you can see, most of the arguments favor a contract extension for Brandon Belt.  It will likely come down to whether the Giants and Belt can agree on a value.  The obvious comp is Belt's buddy, the other Brandon, Crawford.  Like Belt, Crawford broke into the majors in 2011.  He has put up 12.4 fWAR in 2371 PA which comes out very close to Belt's 3.6 fWAR/600 PA's.  Crawford's contract is 5 yrs/$75 M which gives him a very nice nest egg for his long term future, and should give the Giants a nice return on value if he continues to be a 4 fWAR performer.  Win-win!  The Giants should be willing, even eager, to do a Crawford deal with Belt, but is also hard to imagine them willing to go above that.  The question is if Belt's camp thinks he can do better by going to arbitration 1 more season then hitting the open market.  Part of the equation is how much Belt values gaining security now and how much he wants to stay in SF.

In summary, the answer to my question is yes, the Giants should want to sigh Brandon Belt to a contract extension if he is willing to accept the same deal Brandon Crawford just got.


  1. I'd do a Crawford type deal all day long if Belt would take it. I think in the long run he's going to end up being better than Crawford in terms of WAR and that contract should be easily movable if we had to open a spot for Shaw, etc.

    Billy Baseball

    1. I don't know. It's really hard for a first baseman to post a high WAR due to the negative position adjustment.

  2. The other issue with an extension is, at some point, you can't sign everyone. Panik and Duffy will be reaching arbitration around when Belt is a FA. Is it easier to find a 4 WAR 2B or 1B? Is Belt the right fit for the team/park? Panik and Duffy both have an approach that is exceptionally well suited for AT&T.