Blue Jays: Brandon Belt can be the veteran depth the club has been looking for

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers / Jayne Kamin-Oncea/GettyImages
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The “Baby” Blue Jays are getting older, more experienced, more left-handed and - so they hope - better and deeper in 2023 than they were last year.

Brandon Belt, the veteran first baseman who has played his entire 12-year career with the San Francisco Giants, signed a one-year, $9.3 million contract to join the Blue Jays on Monday, a deal first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser. Belt brings to the Blue Jays two World Series rings won with the Giants, 175 career home runs, and one of the most reliable left-handed bats in the league.

He also brings the kind of depth that the Blue Jays have spent most of the offseason trying to accumulate and repeat their run to the postseason. Belt can play first base when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has a much-needed day off. He can also form a designated hitter platoon with Alejandro Kirk for games when Kirk plays behind the plate or takes a rest.

Belt will be 35-years-old early next season, but his power has developed as he’s matured. In 2021, he hit 29 home runs in only 97 games. His 11.2 at-bats per home run would’ve led the league over a full season. He was behind only NL MVP Bryce Harper, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Guerrero in slugging percentage; his OPS would’ve ranked fifth.

Between 2020-21, Belt posted a .988 OPS over 148 games. The list of players he was ahead of in that category is long and staggering: players such as Guerrero, Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman, José Ramírez, and Shohei Ohtani. He did it while playing in the cavernous Oracle Park in San Francisco, which ranked as the third-hardest ballpark to hit home runs last season.

But age and injury started to catch up with Belt in 2022. He played just 78 games as he struggled with right knee inflammation the entire season. He tried to play through the pain and have the knee drained, but, on Sept. 3, Belt decided he had enough and opted for season-ending surgery.

“I was just in pain the entire year and there was nothing we could do to get rid of it,” Belt told San Francisco radio station KNBR 680 after the surgery. “I felt no strength in my knee, no strength in my leg, and I really got to a point where…I couldn’t hit the ball out of the ballpark. That was kind of the moment where I was like, you know what, I don’t think I have any more in me this year. It needs to be taken care of.”

Whether Belt comes back stronger from the knee surgery will determine what kind of role he plays with the Blue Jays in 2023. If he’s healthy, he can be the depth they need, forming valuable righty-lefty platoons with Guerrero and Kirk and keeping the Blue Jays’ younger players fresh for a run into the postseason.

That’s the best-case scenario for the club. The worst case is another injury-plagued season for a veteran with plenty of games and mileage on those legs, approaching the end of his career.

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