Brandon Belt's MLB future shouldn't be in doubt, Gabe Kapler believes

·4 min read

Why Kapler remains optimistic about Belt's baseball future originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- At his introductory press conference nearly three years ago, Giants manager Gabe Kapler heaped praise on Brandon Belt. He has been in his corner ever since, and on Friday, shortly after the team announced that Belt would be out for the season, Kapler said the first baseman should be optimistic going forward.

Belt hopes to recover from this third knee surgery and play next year. Kapler sees a path to him again being a productive big leaguer.

"I think what should give him optimism is the track record. It's a very consistent offensive player," Kapler said. "Even the days that he clearly is in physical pain, he clearly doesn't have it, it's still a grindy at-bat and you feel like he's going to make really good swing decisions, (plus) the experience at first base, the ability to put a throw on the bag at second base and turn a double play. When he's right, he's one of the better first baseman around the game."

"For me, the best predictor of future performance is past performance. He's shown that he can get through major injuries in the past so there's no reason he can't do it again."

Belt is less than a year removed from his best stretch in baseball. He carried the Giants for much of the second half last year and it was around this time last year that he was going so well that he took on the role as The Captain. This season has been a different story.

A year after posting a .975 OPS in 97 games, Belt will finish at .676 in 78 games. After hitting a career-high 29 homers last year, Belt will finish 2022 with just eight.

The Giants placed Belt on the IL last week and on Saturday he will have arthroscopic right knee surgery. It will be his third procedure on the knee in seven years, but Belt is hopeful. In an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, he said this surgery will be similar to one he had in 2015. Belt said it's too soon to know if he can play next year as a 35-year-old, or if he will want to.

"It's just going to depend. I'm going to play next year if I can get my knee healthy and strong again," Belt told NBC Sports Bay Area. "Last time I had this surgery (in 2015) I responded really well to it. That's what I'm anticipating ... If I can get it strong like I did (in 2015) then I'll play, but if not then I'm not going to go out there and be substandard all the time. We'll just have to see."

Belt bounced back from the 2015 surgery to make his lone All-Star appearance in 2016. The 2018 surgery was more complicated and Belt admitted later that he was never right in 2019, but when he got over that hurdle, he had his two most productive seasons as a big league hitter.

The Giants hoped that would carry over this season and they needed it to. But Belt hasn't been right going back to the spring, and on Friday, Kapler said "it's been a grind" the whole year. Kapler noted that the Giants came into this season expecting that Belt would once again carry a heavy load on both sides of the ball.

"We were depending on that this season. Brandon had his heart set on it, and this is just the ending of that," Kapler said. "I think we've been trending in this direction and Brandon has fought it so hard and wanted to be out there for his teammates and for all of us and we just weren't able to get over the hump. Sometimes that happens. That's where we are with it."

Where both sides are moving forward is unclear. Since getting drafted in 2009, Belt has not had to worry much about his future. There were trade rumors early in his career but the Giants never took them seriously. Belt signed a long-term contract extension long before free agency could come into play, and when that deal expired last year, he took the one-year qualifying offer.

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In two months, Belt will hit free agency for the first time. The Giants don't have a ready-made replacement, although they could figure it out internally -- with J.D. Davis, LaMonte Wade Jr. and others -- or look for a first baseman on the open market. Belt still could return, though, and Kapler left no doubt about where he stands.

"Yeah," Kapler said when asked if he'd like to have Belt back next year. "I love having Brandon around.

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