SAN FRANCISCO — As he sat on a podium with Brandon Belt on Saturday afternoon, Giants vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean compared his young infield to the Yankees core of the late 1990s. That group turned New York into a dynasty, and the Giants are hoping their current strategy leads to a few more parades down Market Street for Belt and the rest of a deep lineup.
Belt prioritized being in San Francisco as long as Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and others who are locked in long-term, and on Saturday he put pen to paper on a six-year, $79 million deal that could keep him a Giant through 2021.
"To say that I'm excited and grateful is really an understatement," Belt said. "I think I've matured and grown a lot over the past five years or so. A lot of that is due -- if not all of it -- to this organization from the top down. You're going to have a lot of core guys here for such a long time. I definitely wanted to be here as long as them."
Belt's final numbers came in just a touch above the $75 million Crawford deal that kicked off this $405 million spending spree by the Giants. Belt will get $6.2 million this season as agreed upon in February during the arbitration process. The raise he got in arbitration this year will be duplicated for 2017, which would have been Belt's final arbitration year, leading to a salary of $8.8 million next year, $6 million of which will be paid as a signing bonus in January. For the following four seasons -- which would have been free agent years -- Belt will get $16 million per year. He has a partial no-trade clause that keeps him from being dealt to 10 teams of his choosing.
General manager Bobby Evans accelerated talks with Belt's representatives during the arbitration process. He said the sides were very close to a deal by Opening Day, but the hoopla surrounded the first week of real baseball slowed things down. Belt was a priority for Evans, who noted his ability to post an OPS above .800 while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Evans revealed that Belt finished second for the Gold Glove last November.
"We think we still will see even more from Brandon in the years to come," Evans said.
The 27-year-old is a lifetime .271 hitter, with 116 doubles, 63 homers and 237 RBI in 561 games. Belt’s on-base percentage of .355 since the start of the 2012 season ranks seventh among MLB first baseman, behind Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Prince Fielder, Freddie Freeman, Edwin Encarnacion and Anthony Rizzo. He has at times moved to left or the bench to clear a spot for Posey, but the deal emphatically shuts down any talk of the MVP catcher switching positions down the line.
"That has never been an internal topic of any sort," Evans said. "There's been a lot of talk externally, but we view Buster as the quarterback back there."
Evans noted that Posey's presence behind the plate helps the team attract marquee pitchers. Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija were part of a spending spree that includes the Denard Span deal and extensions for Belt and Crawford. All told, the Giants have guaranteed $405 million since mid-November, but Evans said the deals are spaced out and will not dramatically increase payroll. The Giants quietly expect to be above $200 million in yearly payroll soon, and this deal folds neatly into that plan.
"It's been an organizational commitment to do as much as we can with our homegrown infield, and Brandon is another example of that," team president and CEO Larry Baer said.
While it was a life-altering day for Belt, the press conference had a rather somber tone. The Giants had an hour earlier suffered a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers, giving up the tying run in the ninth and winning run in the 10th. Belt had a chance to extend the lead in the seventh when he hit a blast to right off Clayton Kershaw, who has limited Belt to three hits in 40 career at-bats. The ball traveled 393 feet but died near the 421 sign in right-center, a feeling Belt has come to know well in a park that's not conducive to left-handed power. As Belt walked back to the dugout, he shook his head and smiled. Kershaw, a fellow Texas prep star, laughed.
"I thought I got that one pretty good," Belt said later, smiling. "As soon as I hit it, I was like, 'Yes! I got him!' But unfortunately it didn't go out. That's alright."
Thanks to Saturday's deal, Belt will get quite a few more chances.