The Giants avoided a potentially ugly arbitration battle with Brandon Belt on Tuesday, agreeing with their first baseman to a one-year deal worth $2.9 million. The two sides appeared headed straight for an arbitration hearing as the deadline loomed, but Belt and the Giants were able to settle on a figure at the eleventh hour. Belt, who made a little over $500,000 in 2013, had submitted a figure of $3.6 million, while the Giants offered $2.05 million. As is usually the case in these negotiations, the parties settled near the midpoint at $2.9 million.
Major league clubs are often loathe to take their players to arbitration, and usually negotiations are settled relatively early in the winter. Arbitration hearings consist of teams having to list the reasons why they feel the player in question doesn’t deserve the higher dollar amount that they’re requesting. This often happens with the player sitting in the room, and naturally can lead to hurt feelings. Nowadays, most teams simply elect to hammer out a deal early, and the Giants have traditionally avoided the process altogether. To wit: they haven’t taken a player to arbitration in ten years, when they lost to A.J. Pierzynski in 2004 (a bad omen for what turned out to be an incredibly tumultuous marriage).
There was speculation that the team would offer Belt a long-term deal, buying out the rest of his arbitration years and securing him into his 30’s, much like the Braves did recently with Freddie Freeman. However, it’s likely the Giants want to wait and make sure his second half production was for real before committing themselves to Belt long term. Belt hit a scorching .326/.390/.525 after the All-Star Break last year after altering his grip on the bat. Before that hot second half, though, Belt had spent the majority of his major league career garnering criticism for not hitting for enough power and generally not living up to the hype that followed his scintillating minor league numbers.
If Belt can maintain his second half production over the full 2014 season, it’d make him one of the top first basemen in the league, and you can bet the Giants will be much more enthusiastic about locking him up. Belt projects to hit third in the lineup this season, and with any idea of him moving to the outfield more or less thrown out the window, he’s firmly ensconced as the starting first baseman in San Francisco for the foreseeable future.