The Rangers have had “internal conversations” about a possible free agent pursuit of Brandon Belt, reports Buster Olney of ESPN. The veteran is plenty familiar with Texas skipper Bruce Bochy after their nine seasons together in San Francisco.
There’s also a fairly straightforward roster fit. Texas lost last year’s primary designated hitter, Mitch Garver, to the Mariners in free agency. That leaves DH as the only partial question mark in a loaded lineup. Last year’s #4 overall pick, Wyatt Langford, is fast approaching the majors. With only 44 minor league games on his résumé, the former University of Florida star could begin next season at Triple-A Round Rock.
If the Rangers want to get Langford a few more minor league reps, they’d be set to rotate a handful of players through the DH spot. Utility player Ezequiel Duran would probably be the top option, while former first-round pick Justin Foscue and one-time top catching prospect Sam Huff are also possibilities. Texas should have a very good lineup in either case, but adding a proven veteran bat could replace some of the production lost with Garver’s departure.
Belt would be a solid addition for that role. He’s coming off another very strong offensive showing. The longtime Giant signed with the Blue Jays on a one-year, $9.3MM deal last winter. He connected on 19 home runs in 404 plate appearances, running a .254/.369/.490 batting line. That came in a limited role — Toronto kept him to 34 PAs against left-handed pitching — but Belt posted an excellent .256/.375/.515 mark against righties.
Last year’s 103 games marked his highest workload since 2019. Belt has battled right knee issues throughout his career. A September 2022 surgery looked as if it might end his playing days. Fortunately, Belt rebounded from the procedure to turn in a productive and generally healthy season. He landed on the injured list twice last year, but they were brief absences for a left hamstring strain and back spasms, respectively.
Belt started 69 games at DH and opened 28 contests at first base. He’s best suited on a team that can afford to offer him extended run at designated hitter. With Nathaniel Lowe holding down the first base spot in Arlington, the Rangers qualify. Lowe is also a left-handed hitter, so there wouldn’t be a ton of matchup possibilities between the two players, but each of Duran, Huff and Foscue hit from the right side and could take reps against lefty pitching.
Turning 36 in April, Belt will likely be limited to one-year offers for the remainder of his career. He wouldn’t be any kind of long-term roadblock to Langford, who’d likely still reach the majors in 2024 as injuries in the outfield (or to Belt himself) arise.
The biggest obstacle might be financial. It’s unclear how much spending room general manager Chris Young and his front office still possess. The franchise may need to renegotiate its in-market broadcasting contract with Diamond Sports Group at a reduced rights fee. Paired with an already hefty slate of financial commitments, they’ve limited themselves to fairly modest acquisitions on the heels of their first World Series win.
Texas has brought in Tyler Mahle, Kirby Yates and David Robertson while reuniting with Travis Jankowski in free agency. That’s not a complete dearth of activity, but they’ve mostly avoided taking on notable salary in 2024. Mahle’s two-year contract is backloaded, playing him only $5.5MM this year. Yates and Jankowski are combining for $6.2MM on one-year deals. Robertson inked an $11.5MM guarantee but is only making $6.5MM this season, taking the form of a $5MM salary and a $1.5MM mutual option buyout at year’s end. The remaining $5MM is deferred.
Belt’s camp at Excel Sports Management should want to beat last year’s $9.3MM guarantee, since the veteran is coming off a much better platform year than he was last winter. Joc Pederson, another lefty-hitting platoon DH, just landed $12.5MM from the Diamondbacks off an inferior season. Belt could seek something similar. Texas would also have to pay taxes on any acquisitions, as the Robertson deal pushed their CBT projection above this year’s $237MM base threshold. They’re taxed at a 32% rate on spending up to the $257MM mark.