The Milwaukee Brewers will need to figure out what to do at first base for the 2020 season, and they are reportedly considering a number of different options. They’ve kept in contact with Eric Thames after somewhat surprisingly declining his club option for next season. The club has been linked to outfielders Kole Calhoun and Avisail Garcia, and if one of them is added, it would allow Ryan Braun to soak up plenty of innings at the cold corner. Per Robert Murray, some “rival executives” have also weighed in on the matter, and they seem to believe that Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants would be an ideal fit for the Menomonee Valley Nine.
Rival executives believe #SFGiants’ Brandon Belt would be ideal fit with #Brewers. Would give Milwaukee everyday 1B, an additional left-handed bat in lineup. Unclear if two sides have talked. One potential obstacle: Belt owed $32 million over next two seasons.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) December 13, 2019
Belt, who turns 32 next April, has been a consistent presence in the lineup for the Giants for the better part of the last nine seasons. Since making his big league debut back in 2011, the former 5th-round pick has established himself as a steady, reliable hitter from the left side of the plate — he owns a career .261/.354/.448 batting line with 129 home runs across 4,221 plate appearances, which adds up to a 121 wRC+. Belt is coming off a bit of a down year in 2019, however. In 156 games for the Giants last season, he hit .234/.339/.403 with 17 home runs. That came out to a 99 wRC+, the first time in his career that he finished below the league average offensively by that metric.
Digging a little deeper, however, there is a case to be made that Belt endured some poor luck last year. His BABIP was a mere .275, which is nearly 50 points below his career average (.322) and the lowest total he’s posted since his rookie year in 2011. This, despite posting the second-best hard contact rate of his career according to Fangraphs (40.7%). Belt has also established himself as a reliable on-base threat, walking in at least 10% of his plate appearances in each of the last five seasons, including a 13.5% BB rate last season. He doesn’t punch out excessively, either; he owns a career 23.3% strikeout rate and that number was a career-low 20.6% in 2019.
Belt’s overall offensive numbers have likely been suppressed by the home park he’s played in all these years, as well. Fangraphs has yet to publish their park factors for 2019, but in 2018, Oracle Park in San Francisco was the most difficult place in baseball for left-handed batters to hit home runs with a park factor of 83 (100 being average). Compare that to Miller Park, which had a park factor of 112 (!!!) when it came to left-handed home run hitters. There is a good reason that Slingin’ David Stearns has targeted so many southpaw swingers during his time in Milwaukee. Belt — who hits a high volume of line drives (24.9% career LD rate) and fly balls (43.6% career FB rate, including 46%+ each of the last four seasons), stands out as a likely candidate to see a significant boost to his power totals if he were to move to Milwaukee.
Belt has rated very strongly on defense at the first base throughout his career, tallying +58 Defensive Runs Saved and +30.5 Ultimate Zone Runs in over 8,000 innings. Both of those totals are the third-best among all first the basemen in baseball since the start of 2011. Belt was valued at +4 DRS and +1.2 UZR at first in 2019, and solid defense on the dirt could be important to the Brewers in 2020 as the club figures to rely heavily on the likes pitch-to-contact hurlers Brett Anderson, Josh Lindblom, and Eric Lauer to eat up innings in the starting rotation next season. Belt has also appeared in 93 games in the corner outfield spots during his career, although he doesn’t rate very highly on the grass (-5 DRS, -4.4 UZR).
As Murray notes, Belt’s contract would likely serve as the biggest impediment to any hypothetical deal with cost-conscious Milwaukee. He is owed $16 mil in each of the next two seasons as part of the extension he signed prior to the 2017 season. With the Brewers reportedly looking to cut payroll from last year’s $120+ mil Opening Day number, the large-market Giants would likely have to agree to eat some money in order to facilitate a deal. Belt’s contract does mean that the prospect cost to acquire him isn’t likely to be very significant, however. Also worth noting is that Belt has missed a good amount of time with concussions during his career, suffering at least four diagnosed traumatic brain injuries while with the Giants.
There is no specific evidence that the two sides have discussed a deal, but those “rival executives” appear to be right — Brandon Belt does look to be a solid candidate for the Brewers to stick at first base next year.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs