Brandon Belt did it. He convinced the Giants they were better with him than without him. It came at the expense of last year's best pinch hitter Travis Ishikawa, who was designated for assignment. Part of me hopes Ishi makes it through waivers and goes down to Fresno and is there for us. But another part of me hopes some defensively challenged AL club picks him up and gives him at bats. He was a good Giant. He was overhyped during the awful years as the next big bopping first baseman which he was never going to be but he WAS a JT Snow slick fielding first sacker who could take a walk and occasionally pop the ball in the gap or over the fence. He will be missed.
But Ishi's pain is Brandon Belt's gain. Brandon Belt will get to do what Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey weren't allowed to do as hot young prospects: start the season with the big club. Lincecum was called up (for good) on May 6th, 2007 after spending about 5 weeks in the minors and forcing the Giants hands by absolutely shredding AAA hitters. Buster Posey got a cup of coffee in 2009 as a September call up but spent the beginning of 2010 in the minors. He was called up (for good) on May 29th after absolutely dominating AAA pitching.
Brandon Belt is getting his first MLB action on Opening Day. No AAA seasoning. No squeezing him out for a veteran. He is the Giants 2011 starting first baseman. He will take the field at the Latrine tomorrow evening and face Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and from all accounts will find himself batting 7th and playing first every day after (save for some rest days). Here's something that has somewhat gone unnoticed. It will be Buster Posey's first Opening Day as well. And Pat Burrell's first Opening Day as a Giant, as well as Miguel Tejada's. So Belt won't be the only first timer in a Giants uni. But he will be the only rookie.
The move is ballsy for lots of reason. The Giants are showing they don't care about the long term financial picture as they start Brandon Belt's arbitration clock early, meaning his free agent years approach faster as well. They're sacrificing some defense in the outfield to get Belt's bat in the line-up. Burrell in left and Aubrey in right field? Something tells me we're going to see a lot of Rowand and Schierholtz the first month of the season doing some defensive replacement work. Yes, Rowand made the roster. Yes, he'll likely be the one sent packing when Cody Ross comes back. It makes the most sense as the Giants bench has lost some left-handed pinch hitting with Ishikawa being shipped out.
Right now, the Giants bench has 3 righties (DeRosa, Whiteside, Rowand) and 2 lefties (Fontenot, Schierholtz). When Cody Ross comes back, it could force Burrell to the bench, another right handed bat. It then can be assumed that the Giants would not part with Schierholtz and leave Fontenot as the only left handed pinch hitter. So Rowand looks to be the odd man out. But that's an issue that can be discussed later. For now, we're less than 24 hours to first pitch. Brandon Belt will be wearing #9 (Matt Williams, anyone?) and playing first. Lincecum and Posey will be playing catch. And the San Francisco Giants will, for the first time in history, open the season as the World Series defending champions. Nothing could be finer. Oh, except it's against the Dodgers. And there's a rumor that there may be a plane flying overhead with an SF championship banner. PLAY BALL!