Why has no MLB team signed Brandon Belt?

During the 2023 MLB season, 212 different position players came to the plate at least 400 times. From that group, 35 players became free agents at some point during the offseason.

There were the big, splashy names who garnered plenty of attention as the hot stove burned, from Shohei Ohtani’s bizarre saga to Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman having to settle for contracts less than what they were expecting. The middle class of players found their short-term deals, whether it was productive contributors like Kevin Kiermaier and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. staying put or veterans Joc Pederson and Carlos Santana finding new opportunities in their late thirties. Even guys who stunk last season from that aforementioned group of 35 got pillow contracts to try to rebound, chief among them former batting champion Tim Anderson.

There is only one player from the 35 who has not signed a contract since hitting free agency all those months ago: Brandon Belt. The longtime San Francisco Giants first baseman had signed a one-year deal for 2023 to primarily DH with the Toronto Blue Jays, but after helping them secure a Wild Card spot last year, they elected to replace him with another former All-Star in Justin Turner. That’s fair enough. However, all 29 other MLB teams have also passed on signing Belt, and that has remained the case as the 2024 calendar flipped to May.

The average baseball fan might hear Belt’s name and think, “Well, he was a big part of those Giants championship teams in the early 2010s, and that was long enough ago that he’s probably just not very good anymore.”

Here’s the weird thing, though: the man can still mash! In 2023, Belt batted .254/.369/.490 with 23 doubles and 19 homers in 404 plate appearances (PA). The popular FanGraphs metric Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures a player’s total offensive value in comparison to league average while also adjusting for park effects. Last year, Belt missed some time in June and September with hamstring inflammation and back spasms—not uncommon for guys in their mid-thirties, of which there are many around the league—but on the whole, he had a 138 wRC+ in 103 games, meaning that he was 38-percent better than the average hitter.

Remember how 212 different players reached 400 PA in 2024? Just 14 had a higher wRC+ than Belt, and only the world-class Ohtani had him beat among the 35 free agents.

If you’re a fan of even nerdier stats, Belt also finished above the 90th percentile in barrel rate, sweet-spot percentage, chase rate, and walk rate per Baseball Savant. He can still square ‘em up and send ‘em out to all fields, even against the likes of highly-regarded starters Zack Wheeler, Kyle Bradish, and Logan Gilbert.

It’s disingenuous to say that Belt was point-blank the 15th-best hitter in baseball or anything like that, and we’re not pretending like that’s the case. Belt’s high wRC+ was a byproduct of how the Blue Jays used him in 2023. As a lefty hitter with a platoon split, the man lives to destroy the hopes and dreams of righty arms — who of course make up the vast population of MLB pitchers. As such, 90.3 percent of his trips to the batter’s box came against righties; if he was considered a more complete player at this stage of his career, he would’ve had enough at-bats with southpaws on the mound to bring the wRC+ down.

This also means, though, that Belt’s wRC+ against only righties is even more sensational. Indeed, he clubbed all 19 of his homers and tallied a 146 wRC+ in 365 PA with a righty on the mound — nearly identical to Bryce Harper’s 144 wRC+ in 375 PA.

So yes, Belt is a positionally limited platoon bat and he turned 36 on April 20th. No one is arguing for him to receive a multi-year deal or even the $13 million that the Jays gave Turner (age 39, mind you) to replace him as their DH.

For Belt to not receive anything after the way he demolished a population that comprises 74.7 percent of big-league pitching in 2023 though? It’s bizarre, and it’s not like he’s ever been anything but a beloved clubhouse leader, too. Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic talked to several of Belt’s former teammates a month ago when he was still unsigned as of Opening Day, and they were just as flummoxed. In a separate podcast appearance on March 29th with Sportsnet’s JD Bunkis, Belt admitted to being “baffled” as well, especially since he had a worse 2022 and didn’t have an issue finding a job then.

This past offseason? Crickets.

“I honestly haven’t had hardly any calls at all that have gone past the point of teams saying, ‘Hey, we’re interested. We’re just checking in.’ I wish I had an answer for you. I just don’t.” — Brandon Belt

Going back to those 35 free agents who saw regular time last year, some accepted minor-league deals or mere spring training invitations. Belt wanted a guaranteed contract, and that shouldn’t have been considered unreasonable considering the pure damage he wreaked on most pitchers last year. He had a better year than everyone who settled for a non-guaranteed contract. Yet only one team presented such an offer, and it was so fully loaded with incentives that it was dismissed.

The closest comparison to Belt is another 36-year-old in Tommy Pham, who was the primary DH for the Arizona Diamondbacks and hit in the middle of order for them during their improbable run to the 2023 National League pennant. A free agent, Pham also found himself without a team on Opening Day despite a productive year. He did accept a minor-league contract from the White Sox on April 16th, but that was only a technicality since he had missed spring training due to the free agency stall and needed a few games to tune up. Pham is guaranteed to earn at least $3 million this year.

So why can’t Belt even get something like that? The Tampa Bay Rays in particular have goals of contending once again in 2024 and they have received utterly abysmal DH production thus far. Triston Casas and Trevor Story are on the 60-day IL for Boston and DH Masataka Yoshida might need thumb surgery; like the Rays, Belt could certainly help the Red Sox stay afloat in the competitive AL East. And this is all to say nothing of the second-division teams who could do what the White Sox are doing with Pham by signing Belt with the goal of flipping him for a lottery ticket at the Trade Deadline. For a few million dollars, that’s not a bad gamble at all considering what he did in 2023.

It would be a damn shame if Belt’s excellent 13-year career came to a close before he had actually run out of gas. He still wants to play, and he deserves a shot.

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