This is it, folks. The final free-agent target post in our series. We’ve written about dream acquisitions, like Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom. We’ve covered more realistic targets, like Andrew Heaney. But the Orioles haven’t signed any of our suggestions. It’s like Mike Elias doesn’t read Camden Chat for ideas on how to run his baseball club. But maybe he’ll like this one.
The Orioles are looking for a left-handed batter and they need a high OBP guy. They aren’t going to make a big splash or break the bank, so how about first baseman Brandon Belt?
Belt is not a young guy; he’ll turn 35 not long after Opening Day next spring. And he didn’t have a great 2022 season. He struggled with injuries and his season ended early due to knee surgery in which he had loose cartilage removed. In the end, he played only 78 games with a hitting line of .213/.326/.350, the worst hitting season of his career.
Have I sold you yet?
Here is the thing though: Belt is a good hitter. In his 12 big-league seasons, all with the San Francisco Giants, he has an OPS+ of 123 with an OBP of .356. He’s never been a huge power hitter but he is just one year removed from hitting 29 home runs, the most of his career.
Belt has played outfield in the past but hasn’t since 2019 and those days are probably behind him. So he doesn’t fit that expressed need by the Orioles, but having Belt’s bat in the lineup short-term would still give a boost while the team waits for Colton Cowser to hit his way onto the team.
Ryan Mountcastle had a disappointing 2022 season but it’s my opinion that 2023 should be the season to see if he can turn things around. He should be and I believe will be the regular first baseman. But he needs a backup and Belt is a much more intriguing option than Jesús Aguilar, who filled that role at the end of last season.
Belt offers multiple options. He can DH, be a weapon off the bench late in the game, or get in reps at first base when Mountcastle needs a rest or Brandon Hyde wants to go with a lefty-heavy lineup. If he gets back to form, he could fill a real need for the team.
He also offers what the people call intangibles. A well-respected veteran in the Giants’ clubhouse, he also just happens to have two World Series rings to go with his over 1,300 career games. The Orioles have lost their grizzled veterans from 2022 and thus have an opening. Trey Mancini, Rougned Odor, and Jordan Lyles are gone. Left behind is a team of players with very little major-league playing experience (plus the newly acquired Kyle Gibson).
Bringing Belt on board could complicate things for Anthony Santander, who really should be put in the DH spot rather than sent back to the outfield. Santander doesn’t play first base, of course, but the dreamers among us imagine that he could learn. Adding Belt might push Santander back into the outfield at least part-time.
Unlike so many other free agents this winter, there aren’t a lot of rumors swirling around Brandon Belt. There aren’t any suggestions as to how much he’ll sign for. We are currently in the midst of a crazy off-season in which free agents are getting more money than has been predicted, but whatever Belt ends up commanding it shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive even for the Orioles.
Whatever Belt signs for, if he stinks, it won’t mess things up. And if he’s great, he could be a boon to the offense that needs lefty batters who can get on base.
He’s not Carlos Correa or Xander Bogaerts. He’s no sure thing or long-term solution. But for 2023, Brandon Belt could be a player the Orioles need. And, whether we like it or not as Orioles fans, he could be the kind of player we’ll end up getting.