Barring a last-minute deal, the San Francisco Giants are preparing for an arbitration hearing with Brandon Belt that’s scheduled for 9 am tomorrow morning in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Giants went down to the wire with Tim Lincecum before striking a two-year deal before the 2012 season, so a settlement is always possible before the team and player go to battle.
So this whole thing with Belt might end up meaning nothing. However, it certainly doesn’t seem like nothing. There has to be a reason why the Giants have avoided going to arbitration with a player since A.J. Pierzynski won his case in 2004. The process isn’t a fun one for anybody, except maybe the arbitrators. They probably love the attention, those weasels.
The numbers have different meanings a full decade later, but it’s interesting that the ones in Belt’s and Pierzynski’s respective arbitration cases are so similar.
The Giants offered Pierzynski $2.25 million for one year. The catcher, who had just arrived in San Francisco via trade from Minnesota, countered with $3.5 million and won.
Belt wants $3.6 million. The Giants offered $2.05 million. According to Brian Sabean, the talks are “in the spirit of trying to settle.”
There are too many variables to make assumptions about how close the two sides are, or what’s really at stake. The Giants could be interested in a multi-year contract for Belt that makes him richer than he would’ve been if he went year-to-year in the short term, while giving the Giants some long-term bargain potential. The divide heading into tomorrow sure seems steep, though.
Also unknown is how the arbitrators will judge Belt’s body of work. If sabermetrics play a role, then Belt’s numbers look like a steal compared to what the Mariners were discussing with Justin Smoak ($2.05 million from the Mariners’ side, while Smoak was asking for $3.25 million) before agreeing at the midway point ($2,637,500) a couple days ago, with a club vesting option in 2015 of $3.65 million (with a $150,000 buyout).
Smoak — who is a year and a half older than Belt — has 67 career homers, 34 more than Belt in about 700 more plate appearances. Man, Belt sure has some nerve asking for Smoak money!
Smoak: .227/.314.386, 95 wRC+, 1.4 rWAR, -0.1 fWAR
Belt: .273/.351/.447, 125 wRC+, 8.0 rWAR, 6.3 fWAR
Alright, maybe Belt’s side has a point. And that’s without even really touching on base running and defense (although Baseball Reference and Fangraphs account for both non-hitting disciplines in their WAR calculations). Belt is surprisingly fast for a guy his size, and he’s also one of the best defensive first basemen alive. Smoak, with a glove on his right hand, is just a guy.
2013 was the first year since 1974 where no cases went to arbitration, so it’s not just the Giants who are hesitant to go through the hearing process. Seven players went to arbitration in 2012, with the teams winning five times. The only club that lost was the Marlins, who were beaten by Emilio Bonifacio and Anibal Sanchez. Draw whatever conclusions you like from that piece of information.
Since the arbitrators haven’t been heard from in a while, are they into the new numbers? Or are they of the opinion that first base is a power position and Belt’s career high 17 home runs last season don’t quite fit the bill?
If the Giants and Belt can’t settle before tomorrow morning, the team will be forced to describe Belt’s failings as a Major Leaguer in agonizing detail. However, Belt is probably used to hearing criticism from his employer. After starting with the big club in 2011, Belt ended up with more plate appearances in the minors during his rookie year. In 2012, he was completely lost in July before turning the corner in August and September. After July treated Belt poorly once again in 2013, Bochy told him to put on his “big boy pants.” Then Belt finally relented and remade his swing after Brett Pill was called up and Belt was benched for a few games.
After making everything look so easy throughout 2010, when Belt rose through the system as the Giants surged to their first championship in San Francisco, his big league career has seen its fair share of drama. One of the reasons for that is Belt’s personality. He’s nowhere near the kind of redass (translation: jerk) that Pierzynski is, and he’s legitimately funny (just check out his most recent blog post if you think I’m lying). But he’s also a headstrong individual who showed resistance when the Giants wanted him to change. We’re seeing his self confidence and perhaps even stubbornness right now, as he pushes for yearly raise of more than $3 million — a raise sabermetricians would probably unanimously say he deserves.