Veteran first baseman Brandon Belt considered retirement after the 2022 season due to persistent knee problems, and he said in October after the Blue Jays were eliminated from the playoffs that he’d have to discuss with his family whether or not to keep playing. As Spring Training approaches, however, Belt told The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly that he is “definitely playing this year,” and that he could be close to signing a new contract.
2023 wasn’t a completely healthy season for Belt, as he missed about three weeks spread over two injured list stints due to back spasms and a sore hamstring. Belt also played almost exclusively against right-handed pitching, as the Jays used him mostly in a platoon capacity. Still, Belt’s 103 games played and 404 plate appearances were his highest totals since 2019, and he showed there’s plenty left in the tank by hitting .254/.369/.490 with 19 home runs. That translated to a 138 wRC+, ranking 15th among all players with at least 400 PA.
Even with his injury-marred 2022 season dragging down the numbers, Belt has a 140 wRC+ in 1262 PA since the start of the 2020 season. Though Belt turns 36 in April, it would seem like he is still a very good option for a team in need of some production from the designated hitter/part-time first base role, as long as Belt can remain healthy. Belt earned $9.3MM in his one-year deal with the Jays and should merit a raise, even if a multi-year contract is unlikely.
The Rangers are the only team publicly linked to Belt this offseason, and the World Series champs have a natural connection to Belt given the presence of his old Giants manager Bruce Bochy. A return to the Blue Jays might be less clear now that Toronto has signed Justin Turner, though since Turner is a right-handed hitter who can play third base, there might be some room for the Jays to carry both Belt and Turner even with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. locking down regular first base duty.
The Brewers (with Rhys Hoskins) and Twins (Carlos Santana) have both recently addressed their first base/DH needs, plus other available free agents like Jorge Soler, J.D. Martinez, Garrett Cooper, and Joey Votto are competing with Belt in the marketplace. There’s also the biggest name in Cody Bellinger, whose role as a first baseman or outfielder might vary depending on where he eventually lands.
One team that doesn’t appear to be in the running is San Francisco. Baggarly writes that the Giants “tossed around the idea of a Belt reunion,” but a right-handed hitter seems to be the club’s preference given the lefty-leaning tilt of the lineup. LaMonte Wade Jr. is one of those lefty-swingers and is already penciled into everyday first base duty, and another lefty bat in Michael Conforto figures to take up a big chunk of the DH at-bats.