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Belt's return keeps Giants from scrambling to fill another hole

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There have been 20 players who received the qualifying offer over the past two seasons, and just three have accepted. Two of the three who chose to lock in a big one-year deal rather than fully test the market were Giants. First, Kevin Gausman and now Brandon Belt.

It's no surprise that Farhan Zaidi, Scott Harris and the rest of the front office have a good sense of the market, and they'll now use it to try and build out a roster that had a gaping hole filled on Wednesday afternoon. 

Belt was the team's best hitter in 2020 but also a leader in the clubhouse long before he ever donned the captain's hat. The Giants will have enough trouble filling the hole left by Buster Posey's retirement, and trying to replace Belt -- in the heart of the lineup and in the clubhouse -- would have been nearly as tough a task. The Giants learned that lesson in the NLDS.

It seemed a wash when the Giants entered without Belt and the Los Angeles Dodgers without Max Muncy, but over five games it became clear that one NL West power was having an easier time filling the void. Belt's absence left the outfield to provide most of the production from the left side, and the left-handed-hitting Giants outfielders combined to go 1-for-30 with 13 strikeouts, a huge reason why the Dodgers were able to win that series. 

 

Belt watched much of it from the trainer's room, working feverishly to get back on the field after a fractured thumb ended his regular season early. Before Game 4, he jogged out to the infield during batting practice and started making throws until members of the training staff looked over and shut him down. 

A wide smile on his face, Belt walked off the field and spent a few minutes talking about how eager he was to return. It was a similar conversation to one Belt had with a couple of local reporters three months earlier, shortly after it looked like a knee injury would end his season. Belt could have had season-ending surgery but chose instead to rehab. He said he felt the group was special and he needed to be a part of it, partly because he didn't know what the future held. 

"I wanted to come back and help these guys get to the playoffs and win baseball games and hopefully win a World Series this year. I wanted to be part of that," he said in July. "I've been a part of it before and it's been a while. I wanted to do it again, especially with this group of guys that I might not play with again, so it was really important for me to get back."

Belt would not have been ready for the start of the NLCS, but that didn't matter to him as he waited for his thumb to heal. He was confident the Giants would find a way to get him on the roster the second he was ready, and he was eager to rejoin a group that followed his lead down the stretch. 

The Giants will continue to do so in 2022, with the Brandons being by far the two longest-tenured Giants now that Posey has retired. Crawford is signed through 2023 and the Giants and Belt have had similar discussions, which they now can continue without a deadline. They can also go about the rest of their offseason business with a lot more breathing room. 

Belt's return keeps LaMonte Wade Jr. and Darin Ruf in the corner outfield mix, leaving one fewer hole to be filled. It comes at an extremely reasonable price -- $18.4 million -- for a player of his caliber and allows Zaidi and Harris to continue focusing their efforts on the starting pitching market. 

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The lineup still needs another big right-handed bat after Posey's retirement and the expiration of Kris Bryant's contract, but the front office can be patient there. The best hitters, including Bryant, are expected to wait a while to make their decisions. 

A few days after their season ended with Belt still working his way back, Zaidi sat down behind a podium at Oracle Park and talked about how Bryant would have a lot of suitors. During the same press conference, he spoke about the importance of keeping Belt in the organization. From the big leagues to A-ball, the Giants are asking their hitters to take an approach at the plate that Belt has used for years. It's something Belt appreciates, and one of the reasons he wanted to come back and the front office wanted him back.

 

"He's a really, really important part of this team," Zaidi said. 

The Captain will be in 2022, as well. 

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