The Brandon Belt Chronicles: A Baseball Insider Speaks Out

brandonbelt-3Ken Rosenthal is the senior Major League Baseball writer for FoxSports.com and one of the most astute and knowledgeable sports scribes in the country. So when Rosenthal weighs in on specific team issues, it’s always worth reading. In a March 18, 2011 piece for Fox Sports, “Giants Can’t Hold this Phenom Back”, Rosenthal discusses San Francisco Giants’ prospect Brandon Belt and the now familiar options available to Giants’ team management.

Throughout Spring Training, General Manager Brian Sabean has publically hinted that Belt would benefit from more time at the Triple A level. Last year, the slugging first baseman managed only 48 at-bats at Fresno after 175 at-bats at AA Richmond, and 269 for Single A San Jose. Management and coaches often use a minimum 200 at-bat threshold at AAA ball to ensure a hitter can work out the holes in his hitting at the highest level prior to a big league call up.

But it doesn’t always work out that way. When Giants icon Will Clark was brought up to the big club in 1986, he had a total of 22 at-bats at the Triple A level (at the time, the Phoenix Firebirds). 

So things can change. Brian Sabean talked with SF Chronicle writer Henry Schulman on Friday March 18th, and Sabean indicated the team might actually be open to bringing Belt up north: “If Belt forces his way on it would have to be legitimate, and we’re all agreed he would be the 7th hitter.” While this is probably only positive PR to placate fan enthusiasm for Brandon Belt (and to keep Belt focused), it is interesting that Sabean went out of his way to leave a door open that may only end in disappointment.

And let’s add one more positive indication re the Belt issue. The San Jose Mercury’s Alex Pavlovic (subbing for Andrew Baggarly) noted Bruce Bochy’s announcement that Aubrey Huff (and Travis Ishikawa) would be finally getting more playing time in left field– a prerequisite to Brandon Belt joining the team and taking over at first base. (Note: Pavlovic has done a great job filling in at Extra Baggs the past week.)

The other dominoes that could fall as a result of the Giants keeping Belt primarily involve two players: Aaron Rowand and Travis Ishikawa. Ken Rosenthal used a term that perfectly defines contract money owed a player like Rowand who is not only unproductive, but is also taking up a critical roster spot: “sunk costs”. If the Giants either trade or release Rowand, they do not “lose” the $27.2 million they still owe the center fielder. That money is gone –a “sunk cost”– whether Rowand leaves or stays. But it further defines the term “addition by subtraction”.

In Travis Ishikawa’s case, few teams have a back-up first baseman who only plays first base, no matter how good his glove (and Ishikawa’s fielding is outstanding). But take a minute to look at Ishikawa’s sub-standard 162-game summary stats as a San Francisco Giant: a .727 OPS, a .265 AVG, 87 strike-outs and 46 RBI/46runs scored. He had some success coming to the plate as a pinch hitter in 2010, but batted .200 in 10 post season ABs, with 4 strikeouts. Ishikawa has been a great Giant and some ties are difficult to cut, but this team can no longer waste roster spots on average players.

Which brings us back to Bandon Belt.

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