Evaluating Brandon Belt as a potential fit for the Chicago Cubs

In the Cubs search to find help at first, a potential cost-friendly candidate could include two-time World Series champion Brandon Belt.

Toronto Blue Jays v Cincinnati Reds
Toronto Blue Jays v Cincinnati Reds / Jeff Dean/GettyImages

One free agent name that has recently come up in Cubs' offseason discussions is veteran first baseman Brandon Belt. His name was notably mentioned by Marquee Network's Lance Brozdowski on Cubs 360. While this might not seem like an overwhelmingly great option when first hearing it, his season with the Blue Jays last year suggests there could still be some solid production left in him.

Belt, 35, spent 12 years in San Francisco where he was an All-Star in 2016 and a two-time World Series champion before playing 2023 in Toronto. Last season he slashed .254/.369/.490 with 19 homers, .858 OPS, 138 wRC+, and was a 2.3 fWAR player in 103 games. He was in the 91st percentile in Barrel% and 97th percentile in drawing walks per baseballsavant. Most of Belt's plate appearances were against righties (365 vs. 39 against lefties). He is a career .261/.357/.460, 125 wRC+ hitter with 194 home runs.

Based on the back of his baseball card, Belt gives you an above-average on-base clip, respectable pop, and an overall solid offensive producer. The power isn't elite but can hit in the high teens while walking in 12-15% of plate appearances. His defense through most of his career at first was pretty solid with a +50 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 32.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) per FanGraphs. The defense has dipped a bit since his peak fielding years in 2015-2018 but he can still hold his own adequately.

Are there some concerns or red flags? After all, we saw what happened with two other aging veterans Eric Hosmer and Trey Mancini last year. While this is based on past performances, compare Belt's .489 slug and 133 OPS+ over the past three seasons to Hosmer's .384 slug and 101 OPS over that span. Belt's groundball rate in 2023 of 30.3% is also a drastic difference from Hosmer's 57.4%. The one notable concern for Belt (outside age) was his career-high 35.9% strikeout rate in 2023, compared to his career strikeout rate of 24.5%. Whiffs at the plate increasing for an older player definitely warrants some concern but it does not necessarily rule out he can still be a productive player.

The idea of the Cubs signing Belt is based on the assumption that Cody Bellinger is not back and Matt Mervis is a non-factor. If they want to makeshift first next year, then Belt can be the guy who comes in cheap and mostly starts at first when righties are on the mound. 2024 Steamer projections have Belt slashing .225/.334/.413 with 17 home runs and 106 wRC+ in 99 games. The power projects to be roughly the same as his 2023 season with still an above-average OBP, but a dip in overall production (wRC+ and average notably) is likely based on age factors and trends in his game (i.e. the whiffs increase).

As mentioned on Cubs 360, this would not be an overly costly investment. Last year he signed a one-year, $9.3 million deal with the Blue Jays. Do not expect him to sign any expensive or lengthy deals (likely another one-year) for 2024.

Belt would not be a risk financially, but if the Cubs are serious next year about winning, then the hope would be he could produce around his 2023 numbers. Currency is not the concern, it's how he impacts a team on the field that's trying to win now. If the Cubs were to invest in him, then the hope is they evaluate projections and are very sure he will not fall off a cliff in 2024, which is usually a higher risk for a player in his mid-30s regardless.

It's not necessarily a slam dunk option but, a potentially sneaky solid one at a great price if other bigger moves are made around him.

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