Giants Face Imminent Decision on Belt

Two weeks ago this would have been a much tougher decision. Back then Brandon Belt, heralded 23-year-old rookie, top prospect, was busy exciting the Giants’ fan base. At that point it was tough to even think of Cody Ross, whose spring training injury opened up the spot for Belt in the first place. But now, two weeks later, the decision appears a bit more obvious. Ross figures to return tonight, meaning someone has to go. Belt, who hasn’t recorded an extra base hit since the 8th and who is currently sporting a .281 wOBA, will likely make the trip back to Fresno. That decision is fairly easy. Belt’s eventual return, though, might ride on a bigger decision down the road.

Had Belt been hitting the cover off the ball, maybe the Giants would have found an adequate number of at-bats for him. But since he’s not, it’s more likely that they send him to AAA and give him regular at-bats. It’s a much easier decision to keep Darren Ford around in a bench role, since his future development isn’t as important to the team. Ford, 25, has seen his stock drop in the past few seasons. Before the 2010 season Baseball America rated him the Giants’ No. 13 prospect, but he fell all the way to No. 27 this year after a poor showing in AA. He won’t do much in the majors, but he’s just a bench guy and the Giants lose little by having him sit around for days and days before getting into a game.

This presumed move creates another change for the Giants. Aubrey Huff, who has played outfield in Ross’s absence, will slide back to first base. That’s how the Giants planned it out this off-season, so everything appears to have fallen back into place. The hitch, however, comes from Huff’s performance. He has been only slightly better than Belt, producing a mere .295 wOBA in his 66 PA. I know it’s only a small sample (quick, someone reprimand me), but given Huff’s history it’s not difficult to see this turning into a bigger problem for the Giants.

It’s easy to see why the Giants wanted to keep Huff around after last season. He led the team in wOBA and finished second in WAR, just 0.3 behind Andres Torres. Belt was the team’s top prospect, but as defending world champions they probably wanted a bit more certainty at the position. That desire, unfortunately, led to a two-year, $22 million contract that includes a $10 million option for 2013. That seems like an odd guarantee for a player who is not only blocking a top prospect, but who has displayed inconsistent results in the past.

You can even see it in his daily charts from the past three seasons.

Add in an outlying walk rate from last year, and it becomes pretty apparent that Huff wasn’t going to repeat his numbers. Again, the idea of keeping him around as to not lean on an unproven rookie is one thing. Signing him to a contract that makes him difficult to bench is another. The Giants are now in a tough position. What if Huff experiences another see-saw year and doesn’t hit? What of Belt then?

This could create an even bigger decision for the Giants later in the season. It’s not as though Belt became a bust when he got off to a slow start. Rookies do that all the time. There’s a good chance that Belt returns to Fresno, hits the cover off the ball, and forces his name back into the conversation. If Huff isn’t hitting by, say, mid-June, what then? Would they recognize Huff as a sunk cost and move him to a part-time role? Or would they insist on playing him because of his contract? From an outsider’s perspective it’s easy to choose the former, but general managers have many additional factors to weigh.

Huff can make this question moot by picking up the pace. It’s quite possible that he does, even though we’ve seen him do the up-year, down-year thing before. That would certainly make things easier on the Giants, who could keep Belt in AAA to further suppress his service time, while actually having an excuse. But if Belt hits and Huff does not, they’ll be in quite a pickle. They can’t just trade Huff, as they did Bengie Molina last year when Buster Posey forced his way into the lineup. If Huff isn’t hitting no team would pick up that contract; even if he were hitting they probably wouldn’t get much in return.

The Giants are not in an enviable position right now. Sympathy runs low, because it is of their own creation. While optioning Belt now is a fairly easy decision, this isn’t the end of the situation. If Huff continues to struggle, as he has in the past, the Giants won’t have it so easy. Clearly, in that scenario, they should bring up Belt and let him take full-time reps at first. But for GMs situations are rarely as clear as they are to outsiders. Sabean’s decision in this matter, if it comes to that, will play a large role in his continuing evaluation as Giants’ GM.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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JoeyPajamas
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JoeyPajamas
5 years 3 months ago

Maybe Ross will suck too. Then they can bench him, cut him at the end of the year, and go back to the way things were. Not that that’s an enviable situation either…

Giant Torture
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Giant Torture
5 years 3 months ago

Well maybe there’s another earthquake in San Francisco that swallows Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, what then? WHAT THEN?

Giant Torture
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Giant Torture
5 years 3 months ago

OMG! Aubrey Huff only has .295 wOBA and we’re almost three whole weeks in to the season! Remember, he’s had bad years before therefore he will regress…science!

Kroot
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Kroot
5 years 3 months ago

“If your sentence begins, “I know it’s a small sample, but…” the next step is to hit the backspace key and hold.”

Scott
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Scott
5 years 3 months ago

As a Giants fan, I saw this type of situation coming and it was why I was not excited about bringing Huff back, particularly for two years. One year would have been ok, but apparently someone else offered him more and Sabean felt like he had to match.

One of the reasons the Giants did so well last year was not Huff. Sure, he had a great year. But the strategy in the ’09 off-season wasn’t “Sign Aubrey Huff.” It was “Take a one year flier on a 1B with some upside coming off a bad year.” (Technically, the strategy was offer too much money to Adam Laroche. Luckily he didn’t take it.) A one-year flier should have been the strategy again this past off-season. You had a fairly large market (Berkman, Pena, Branyan, Laroche again, Lee, Cantu, etc.), all of whom could have been got for only one year, and at equal to or less than Huff is getting.

A one-year deal would have given the Giants much more flexibility going into next off-season, when Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez are arbitration eligible and the team has about 73 million tied up in 6 players (Zito, Rowand, Cain, Wilson, F. Sanchez and Huff). Factor in the fact that their top prospect (Belt) plays 1B and there was plenty of reason not to give an inconsistent 34 year old coming off one of his best years a two year contract.

And that was all without factoring in Huff’s early season performance. As with Zito, the contract is signed and the Giants need to get what they can out of the situation. Moving Belt down makes sense, while he’s had solid at-bats he is not producing. Getting Huff back to 1B will improve the OF defense, which the Giants’ fly-ball heavy pitching staff will appreciate. Maybe he’ll hit better if he doesn’t have to worry about how ugly he looks in the OF.

Adios Pelota
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Adios Pelota
5 years 3 months ago

“One of the reasons the Giants did so well last year was not Huff.”

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what?

MGP
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MGP
5 years 3 months ago

““One of the reasons the Giants did so well last year was not Huff.”

===================

what?”

————————–

Well he’s right. MANY of the reasons the Giants did so well last year were not Huff. And one of the reasons the Giants did so well last year WAS Huff.

Scott
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Scott
5 years 3 months ago

It was a bit disingenuous of me to say it that way.

I was trying to make the point that, while Huff had a great year last year, the strategy that made them successful was not “sign Huff” it was “sign a cheap 1B with something to prove,” and that that should have been the strategy again this year.

The fact that the strategy worked so well is the reason they should have tried it again. However, somewhere along the line they decided that “signing Huff” was the great idea, when really it was just the result of a good strategy.

I recall listening to KNBR around the time he re-signed, and there were a number of people who seemed to want to treat this deal as a 3 year, 25 million dollar deal, rolling his 1 year, 3 million contract from last year into the new contract. However, the truth of the matter is that part of why he was so valuable last year was how little he was making, and part of why he’s not nearly as valuable going forward is how much he’s making and how long he’s making it.

The strategy of how the Giants were going to cover the 1B position had changed, and not for the better.

nosferatu
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nosferatu
5 years 3 months ago

Not exactly science, but I wonder if–especially because he’s had such a time of it in RF–the move back to first might allow Huff to relax, focus on his hitting, and get back to a level more reminiscent of last season.

Sam
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Sam
5 years 3 months ago

1) The “see-saw year” stuff is junk science.

2) No one expected Huff to repeat his 2010 productivity, otherwise he would have signed for a lot more money than he did. This is a strawman tackled repeatedly in the article.

3) The Giants have had no problem using Rowand as a reserve when he’s not hitting, and he makes as much as Huff.

4) This article is worse than the regular April SSS schlock. It would at least make intuitive sense if Belt were hitting. But he’s not.

Scout Finch
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Scout Finch
5 years 3 months ago

Good points. Especially #1.

Huff started slow last year. Took longer to notch his first HR last year as well which was an inside the park job. Everyone who reads box scores is well aware of the abundance of slow starters.

He’ll pick it up soon enough. I wouldn’t put $ on him improving upon last year, but there’s little reason to believe he can’t put up similar numbers.

This is not a bad problem for the Giants to have.

wobatus
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wobatus
5 years 3 months ago

There’s little reason to believe he can’t put up similar numbers, but there are about 6000 career plate appearances that say he probably won’t put up similar numbers. It was his best year, and while he has approached it a couple of times, his overall numbers are worse than his line from last year, and he isn’t young. He of course isn’t paid like he will repeat last year’s numbers, but something closer to .270/.340/.470 might be reasonable, I guess.

Graham
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Graham
5 years 3 months ago

I’m proudly in line behind Sam. The Giants have no qualms about bruising egos in order to put the best team on the field. Bochy did this more last year than I can recall any manager doing in recent memory (benching Sandoval, repeatedly leaving Zito off postseason rosters, etc.).

I’m not thrilled at the idea of sending down Belt. Yes, he’s struggled on the stat sheet; but he’s hit some balls hard, and he’s continuing to see a ton of pitches. Add to that his plus defense and some sneak attack speed and great baserunning instincts, and it’s not hard to see how he can continue to help hte major league roster at the moment. He offers a lot more to the team than Darren Ford does — even with Torres ailing and Huff and Burrell having a clank contest at the corners, Ford is still pretty expendable given Rowand and Schierholtz’s defensive capabilities.

But even if they do opt to send down Belt, I still don’t think this is a longterm problem for the Giants. They have a ton of interchangeable parts, and they could conceivably give Belt more time in the OF if Huff starts hitting again with a return to the infield. They could capitalize on Rowand’s resurgence and flip him for some rotation depth (a AAAA starter or something).

Long story short: the Giants have a lot of ways they can resolve the problem laid out in this article — if indeed there is a problem at all.

david
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david
5 years 3 months ago

maybe i can’t read charts very well, but his yearly performance shows pretty consistently good perfromance since he established himself as a legit major leaguer–with the lone exception of ’09 (i’m ignoring ’11 as it’s only a few weeks old).

Adios Pelota
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Adios Pelota
5 years 3 months ago

think Rowand has to perform well for more than few weeks…who wants to choke on $24 mil even for a AAAA non-prospect?

Nate
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Nate
5 years 3 months ago

And the situation is really 4 guys (Huff, Ross, Belt, and Burrell) for 3 spots (LF,RF,1B).

Heck with 2 LHB and 2 RHB, you could even do a platoonish thing as well.

Oddibe McBlauser
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Oddibe McBlauser
5 years 3 months ago

…Excepting your namesake from the discussion? Schierholtz is the subject of one of yesterday’s best articles I’d like to share:

http://blogs.mercurynews.com/extrabaggs/2011/04/18/the-schierholtz-brothers-a-streaking-comet-and-their-unforgettable-night-at-coors-field/

Nate
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Nate
5 years 3 months ago

Yeah, that’s a great story, but unless yesterday signified a miraculous new hitting ability for him, he’s going to be the 5th OF. He’s just starting today because they want to wait til tomorrow to activate Ross.

DrBGiantsfan
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5 years 3 months ago

I’m in the line that says let’s give Huff a few consecutive starts at 1B before we declare he’s having a bad season. The Belt experiement was a noble thought, but it turned out to be very disruptive, mainly becsause if forced Huff to play positions where he just isn’t as good as he is at 1B. Look for the team to gel around a starting lineup that includes Huff at 1B, Ross in RF, Torres in CF and Burrell in LF with Nate and Rowand as the reserve OF’s.

Jason
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Jason
5 years 3 months ago

There is a lot to critique about this article – the SSS premise on which it rests being the most obvious, but what exactly would the author have had the Giants do differently? If your Brian Sabean would you really want to let your World Championship defense rest on the hopes of a rookie that hasnt had a MLB at bat and has less than 50 at bats in AAA? Of course not. And after you have made that decision what were the alternatives. Paying Carlos Pena 10 million? I’d rather have Huff at 2/22 with his ability to play LF (albeit poorly) if Belt forces the issue.

In contrast to the articles conclusion – the Giants are in the ENVIABLE position of having to many 2-3 win players for a 25 man roster. That is not a bad thing.

Adios Pelota
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Adios Pelota
5 years 3 months ago

agree with that….was an overpay for Huff but he gives them versatility…

end of article is just silly:

The Giants are not in an enviable position right now. Sympathy runs low, because it is of their own creation.

who writes this kind of drivel? makes no sense….the Giants actually do appear to be in an enviable situation, many interchangeable players that can contribute and they probably won’t even miss Belt since he’s had 1 frickin RBI outside of that 3 run HR a few weeks ago….they should hit 90 wins at least and might even hit upper 90’s…good team chemistry and unlike in previous 5 years or so if they get down 3-4 runs early, the game is NOT over.

as far as the sympathy comment i’m not even sure what the point is – who the hell cares if you have others’ sympathy? the goal is to WIN!

Jason
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Jason
5 years 3 months ago

I’m as worried about Aubrey Huff hitting .250 as I am excited about Aaron Rowand hitting .320.

Bhaakon
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Bhaakon
5 years 3 months ago

I’m worried about Rowand hitting .320, because I think it will result in a much better player (Torres) sitting on the bench far too often while Rowand slowly regresses to his mean.

Graham
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Graham
5 years 3 months ago

@Bhaakon — I think it’s far more likely that they’ll just let Rowand drive up his trade value and then let him go. Given the necessity of freeing up money to sing the arbitration and pre-arbitration guys this offseason and the next, the Giants should (and hopefully will) look for every opportunity to pass on at least some of that $20+ million, given how much cheaper Torres is. Naturally, I’m as scarred by Gritty Veteran Syndrome as you are — but I have to believe Torres will have the opportunity to reclaim his job, assuming his achilles is okay.

BillWallace
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BillWallace
5 years 3 months ago

Yeah I don’t see the problem here either. The Huff extension at the time was not great, but not terrible either. He was projected for 2-2.5 WAR and got 2/22 on the open market. It was mildly first-guessed at the time, but not killed, and there’s no call to second-guess it now just because of a slow start.

The Giants have an abundance of satisfactory OF options, so Huff or Belt in the OF was not necessary. It was only a workaround to deal with OF injuries and give Belt a shot. It was never a long term solution.

All the Giants need is one of Belt/Huff to give reasonable production at 1B. It’s pretty obvious that the best plan is to put Belt in AAA and Huff at 1B, and leave the outfield to the outfielders. If Huff is absolutely awful for much longer than 66 PAs then you bench him and bring up Belt. But it’s more likely that he hits at the .349 Zips has him at, and the Giants are just fine.

To me the more interesting question for the Giants is how the OF playing time shakes out when everyone is healthy. Ross plays full time for sure, but I’m certain of nothing else. Imo it should be Burrell Torres Ross with Nate for defense and PH/spot and Rowand PH/spot, but Rowand has been hitting (especially for average) so he may have disrupted things. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Burrell benched.

huffdaddy
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huffdaddy
5 years 3 months ago

did the fact i just hit one about 420 feet*, change your mind?

*small sample size

OaklandDan
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OaklandDan
5 years 3 months ago

Why does SSS apply to Huff and not to Belt? Belt has hit everywhere, up to and including spring training and all the rest of it. He’ll hit, but of course because he’s “inexperienced” he’ll have to bat .400 for a solid month in order to break into the major leagues.

Huff is experienced alright. He’s experienced at sucking for entire seasons and half seasons at a time.

The Giants were doing just fine with Belt playing, and they’d be doing even better if they’d just show a little patience and let the kid get some more AB’s. He is going to hit. Man, a lot of this MLB tenure stuff is just complete bullshit.

Bhaakon
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Bhaakon
5 years 3 months ago

For one thing, because Belt’s entire professional career is a small sample size. Or, at least, a not particularly large one which is problematically weighted towards the low minors.

Graham
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Graham
5 years 3 months ago

It’s also true that MLB pitching has exposed a weakness in Belt’s approach (the inside fastball) that was likely not exploited until now. I’m not saying he won’t resolve it — in fact, I’m very optimistic that he will — but there’s a difference between a guy going through a slump and a guy who is making outs consistently on the same pitch. Belt still needs to establish that he can adapt and hit that pitch with authority — that’s another big difference between him and Huff.

Matt
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Matt
5 years 3 months ago

As a Giants fan, it’s disappointing that Belt couldn’t have done more with his first stint in the bigs. As a Fresno native, I am selfishly stoked that I can see Belt everyday now. I don’t think he’ll be here long.

Slats
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Slats
5 years 3 months ago

Belt was always going back to the minors.

Giants couldn’t have Huff in RF!

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