Pittsburgh Pirates: Five Best First Base Free Agent Targets

A Look at the five best potential first base free agents for the Pirates.

Aug 11, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Brandon Belt (13) runs the
Aug 11, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Brandon Belt (13) runs the / Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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Number Three - Brandon Belt

Brandon Belt spent the first 12 years of his Major League career with the San Francisco Giants. Instead of returning to San Francisco for a 13th season, Belt headed North of the border to the Toronto Blue Jays. Belt had a down season by his standard in 2022 but came back strong in 2023 with a big year for the Jays.

In 404 plate appearances, Belt slashed .254/.369/.490. He posted by far his best slugging percentage in any season where he had at least 400 plate appearances. Belt’s 15.1% walk rate is less than 1% shy of his career-best rate, which was set in 2016 at 15.9%. Belt went yard 19 times, the second most dingers he’s hit in his career. At the end of the year, Belt had a .396 wOBA, and 137 wRC+.

But there are some things to take note of. Belt struck out at an uncharacteristic 34.9% rate. His strikeout rate has steadily been climbing over the last few seasons but went from 27.2% to nearly 35%. Although Belt’s expected numbers were still solid, they weren’t nearly as good as his surface numbers. His .337 xwOBA, and .437 xSLG paint a less bright picture.

Belt split his time as the Jays’ first baseman and DH. He may not be the Gold Glove contender he was in his prime, but he can still get the job done with the glove at first. He had -2 DRS, but +2.6 UZR/150, and +1 out above average. 

Belt is probably best used as a strong-side platoon. 365 of his plate appearances were taken against opposite handed pitching this season. He hit .256/.375/.516 with a 146 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. But when facing a lefty, he only hit .235/.308/.265 with a 64 wRC+. Granted, the Jays tried to hide Belt against southpaws as much as possible, as he took less than 50 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers.

A Belt/Connor Joe platoon could give the Pirates good production. Joe had a 122 wRC+ against lefties last year. Belt showed he still has some stuff left in the tank. He may not be a long-term solution, but he has shown he’s still highly effective vs right-handed pitching, making him one of the best platoon options.