SAN FRANCISCO — In the minutes following Buster Posey’s retirement press conference on Thursday, Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler each stated the obvious.
“You can’t replace Buster.”
In separate interviews, a leadership duo that laid the foundation for a record-setting season in San Francisco acknowledged there’s no way to fill the void left by one of the most accomplished players in Giants history.
The Giants are eager to see 2018 first-round draft choice Joey Bart step into a prominent role and optimistic some of the team’s younger players including ace Logan Webb will emerge as clubhouse leaders, but World Series champions with 10-plus years of major league experience don’t exactly grow on trees.
That’s one of the main reasons why retaining another key player with multiple rings and more than a decade of experience hitting in the middle of the Giants’ lineup has become even more important.
With four-time Gold Glove Award winner Brandon Crawford already returning on a two-year, $32 million extension signed back in August, the Giants’ offseason focus will shift toward re-signing first baseman Brandon Belt. At the club’s end-of-season press conference last month, Zaidi suggested the team’s top offseason priority would be maintaining a sense of roster continuity and bringing players such as Posey and Belt back to build off the success the Giants enjoyed in 2021.
As Posey heads into retirement, it’s clear that keeping Belt in San Francisco should now be the primary objective for the Giants’ front office in the days and weeks ahead.
While it’s uncertain what kind of contract Belt might command on the free agent market, a deal in the two-to-four year range averaging somewhere from $15-$18 million per year seems realistic for the 33-year-old first baseman. Without such an extensive injury history, Belt might be a lock to receive a four-year contract from a team, but he’s only played in more than 85% of the Giants’ games once in the last five seasons.
Even with concerns about Belt’s durability, there’s no denying how valuable he’s been when healthy, particularly since Kapler was hired to succeed Bruce Bochy and brought three young and inexperienced hitting coaches with him to San Francisco. At Posey’s press conference last Thursday, the catcher explained that veteran players were initially skeptical of the staff Kapler assembled, but an innovative group of coaches ultimately changed the trajectories of several players’ careers.
“I think there was definitely a period for us players when those guys came in like, Donnie (Ecker) is a year older than me and the other two guys (Justin Viele and Dustin Lind) are younger than I am,” Posey said. “So those guys being able to establish trust with veteran players as quickly as they did was pretty incredible. Kap should get a lot of credit for putting the staff together like he did.”
While Crawford and Posey were two of the Giants’ best hitters this season, Belt has been the most consistent since the start of the 2020 season. Over the last two years, Belt’s 163 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) ranks third among all major league players with at least 500 plate appearances behind Juan Soto (171) and Bryce Harper (164).
With a .595 slugging percentage during that same time period that trails only Padres star Fernando Tatís Jr. (.598), Belt has unlocked even more power and proven that the notoriously pitcher-friendly confines of Oracle Park are no longer curbing his production.
In mid-September, with Belt in the midst of the hottest prolonged stretch of his major league career, Kapler said he thinks Belt has the potential to become even more dominant at the plate.
“I actually think he can get better,” Kapler said. “He’s as well-rounded of a hitter as there is out there and I think the power is getting better. I think his bat is moving through the zone better than it has in years past. I think he’s more confident. Ultra-competitive.”
Aside from the on-field contributions Belt made, he was also more of a vocal leader for the Giants than he’s been at any other point during his tenure in San Francisco. Belt named himself the team’s “Captain,” and inspired teammates to don makeshift “C’s” on their pregame warmup t-shirts after the first baseman suffered a season-ending hand injury in late September.
As Belt hits free agency, the Giants have already taken an important step toward keeping him with the club. On Sunday, the Giants extended a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer to the first baseman, meaning that if Belt declines the offer within the next 10 days, any team that signs him will forfeit a draft pick to do so. Players of Belt’s caliber are certainly worth giving up a future draft choice to sign, but free agents who receive qualifying offers often see the market of teams interested in their services limited.
It’s unlikely Belt accepts the Giants’ qualifying offer given that he’s likely looking for a multi-year deal at this stage of his career, but toward the end of the season, Belt reiterated his interest in staying with the club that drafted him. A multi-year extension, much like the one Crawford received, makes sense for both parties.
As Posey heads into retirement, the Giants know they can’t replace him. If they somehow let Belt slip away in free agency, the void will become that much larger, both on and off the field.