I asked San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean a few questions on Friday, when he met with reporters for about a half hour in a suite at AT&T Park. The first was whether they had room in the budget for Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada. The third question was about team chemistry, which will be a part of a lengthier story later this month.
The second question I had for Sabean was about Brandon Belt, who many feel is one of the team’s most important players heading into the 2015 season. One can also throw Matt Cain into that mix, as well as Angel Pagan. But the Giants are clearly hoping for a power boost from a player or two to make up for the sluggers they’ve lost since the World Series, and Belt (12 home runs last year in 61 games) is the prime candidate.
“We know (Belt’s power is) there. We’ve seen it. People forget how fast Brandon got to the big leagues. Both Brandons, actually. Unfortunately, plus or minus, they’ve had to learn at the major league level. That’s not so easily done, no matter what kind of team you’re on, including the pressure of being on playoff teams and World Series teams. But we hope this is the year that he breaks out, because we’re going to miss Sandoval’s power. We’re going to miss Morse’s power,” said Sabean.
That wasn’t my question, actually (I guess the headline makes that rather obvious). Even though it’s kind of a moot point now with four legit major league outfielders — along with Travis Ishikawa, Juan Perez and Gary Brown in case of emergencies — it seemed like the Giants could’ve gotten creative with left field in each of the last two offseasons. They were reportedly pretty close to landing Jose Abreu before last season, a signing that would’ve meant moving Belt to left or trading him for help elsewhere.
Belt played 31 games in left field and one game in right field (a game that went to extra innings) in 2011, when he actually spent more time in the outfield (241.2 innings) than he did at first base (203). His had three errors in the outfield during his rookie season, giving him a rather shaky fielding percentage of .945 (that’s not the be-all/end-all, but it was clear at the time that Belt was more comfortable at his natural position). He played four games in left field in 2012, and since then we’ve heard talk about giving him some practice time in left in each of the last two Spring Trainings, but we’ve seen nothing in the way of actual innings (save for one inning in right field in 2014, when Hunter Pence was moved to center field as Bruce Bochy “noodled” the lineup to get some late offense in a 4-3 loss to the Brewers).
Belt’s bat plays well in left field, and he’s athletic enough to handle the same position Travis Ishikawa held throughout the 2014 postseason. So why haven’t the Giants followed through with making Belt a multi-positional player?
“A lot of times you want to I guess accent the positive, keep people in their comfort zone,” Sabean said.
“This guy’s an above average first baseman. We have seen a snapshot of him in left field. The last thing you want to do with a young player, especially that’s coming into their own or you hope is coming into their own offensively is to move him around defensively, because there could be some slippage. So that would be the biggest reasons. And we think now that we have Aoki and Blanco back, as the fourth outfielder, so to speak, we’ve got enough depth.”
One reason some have wondered about moving Belt: the incredible numbers Buster Posey has produced as a first baseman (.354/.411/.555) compared to his merely very good numbers as a catcher (.301/.367/.478). Moving Belt — who hits almost equally well off lefties as he does against right-handed pitching — to left field when Posey plays first base means not having to remove one of the team’s best hitters from the lineup when Posey needs a “break” from squatting, blocking balls in the dirt, and suggesting what to throw.
However, it doesn’t sound like the Giants plan on giving Posey fewer innings behind the plate this season … or anytime soon, really.
“He’s the catcher,” Sabean said when asked about Posey’s future. “He’s a franchise catcher and that’s where he’s going to play, short-term and long-term.”