SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Now that Buster Posey has retired, Brandon Belt is officially the longest-tenured Giant. It felt fitting, then, that Belt -- the club’s self-proclaimed "Captain" -- was the one to inherit Posey’s old corner locker at Scottsdale Stadium this spring.
“I should,” Belt deadpanned on Tuesday. “He’s passing the torch. I’m the guy now. I think that’s the most important thing.”
All joking aside, Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford -- the two remaining players from the Giants’ championship core -- are expected to provide key continuity as they transition out of the Posey era.
The Giants rewarded Crawford with a two-year, $32 million extension in August, but Belt entered the offseason with a more uncertain future. The 33-year-old first baseman asserted himself as an offensive force for San Francisco last year, batting .274 with a .975 OPS and a team-high 29 home runs, but he was limited to 97 games by various injuries, most notably a left thumb fracture that sidelined him for the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.
The Giants badly missed Belt’s bat in the playoffs, as they were eliminated after hitting .182 and scoring only 10 runs over five games against the Dodgers.
“Obviously, he was arguably our best hitter, our best offensive performer, for a good portion of the year,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It was a real challenge for Brandon. I think we felt for him. We missed him as a club, as well. It was a big loss.”
There were no guarantees Belt would return for his 12th season with the Giants, but he ultimately chose to accept a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer in November.
“I wanted to stay here, so that worked out,” Belt said. “I think I was probably looking to hang around a little bit longer than one year, but that’s just the way it turned out. It’s fine, I’m where I wanted to be. I’m happy.”
Belt admitted that he was caught off guard by Posey’s decision to retire, even though Posey had hinted at the possibility last year.
“I was a little shocked, even though he told us every day of the season last year that he was going to retire,” Belt said. “But still, somebody who is competing at a high level like that, to me it’s still a little unexpected. He was still so good. Such a leader in our clubhouse, such a great personality in the clubhouse. It’s definitely weird without him, but he definitely keeps in contact with all of us. He’s going to be here in spirit and let us know when we do something wrong.”
Belt will be among the veterans who will be counted on to help fill the leadership void in the clubhouse this season. Unlike last year, when he missed the beginning of Spring Training due to back-to-back bouts with COVID-19 and mononucleosis, he’s entering this season fully healthy and ready to build off his 2021 campaign.
“I feel like that’s who I am,” Belt said. “That’s what I wanted to be my entire career and I finally got to a point where mentally and physically I believe I can do that year in and year out. Like I said, I believe that’s who I am now. I think I can go out for the next few years and do that again.”
The lockout didn’t leave much time for Belt and the Giants to seriously discuss a multi-year contract, but he said he’s “happy going a year at a time if I need to.”
After securing his return to San Francisco, Belt was able to turn his attention to one of his primary offseason hobbies: bass fishing. He held the first annual Brandon Belt Fishing Tournament in February and raised over $100,000 for The Father’s Heart, a charity that rescues abused children in Brazil.
Belt hopes to travel to Brazil to see the organization in action in the future, but right now, he’s angling for a different goal, namely helping the Giants defend their National League West title in 2022.
“I think we expect to compete to win,” Belt said. “We expect to go out there and win the division now. I don’t know if we’re going to win 107 games, but I think they put together a team that can go out there and compete with the best of them. I don’t think it’s going to be a whole lot different from last year. I think we’re going to have a good shot at going to win this thing. That’s what we’re focused on.”