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Belt's importance to Jays extends far beyond batter's box

Toronto Blue Jays Brandon Belt Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Brandon Belt Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — On a nightly basis, there are usually more important players than Brandon Belt in the box score.

But there may not be a more important figure than the grizzled 35-year-old veteran inside the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse at this time of year.

Imported from the West Coast on a one-year deal after 12 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, the Jays front office knew the ingredients they were adding to what they still hope is a World Series recipe.

Objectively — and easy to quantify based on his numbers against right-handed pitching — it was left-handed pop and the ability to get on base.

Subjectively — and almost impossible to truly dissect value-wise — was all of the experience in pennant races and October that the Jays figured would come in handy with the high expectations placed on this team.

Despite spending the last couple of weeks on the IL with a lingering lower-back issue, Belt has been a central figure in the Jays keeping their composure after a mid-September sweep at home at the hands of the Texas Rangers.
Belt is a calming presence, especially when things have gone sideways at times.

“He’s done it the whole year,” said manager John Schneider after welcoming Belt back to the active roster to kick off the final homestand of the season on Tuesday. “Just being able to slow the game down and not let situations get too big. Things that he talked about all year, really, and I think right now is the time to do it. I love that he’s back and active and ready to play and not just relaying that message. He’s done that a lot — especially the last week.”

Signed for $9.3 million this past winter, Belt has played his role and played it well.

While the overall numbers aren’t going to stand out, Belt has posted an overall wRC+ of 134, proving he’s still a well-above average hitter as he approaches his 36th birthday next April.

The numbers against righties are even more impressive.

All 16 of his home runs this year have come off right-handers, and the 141 wRC+ shows Belt is still as productive as it gets when he’s used in the right spots.

As with most veterans with the resume Belt has put together, the subject of retirement has come up.

Belt is non-committal at this point, but there’s a chance he’s taking his final at-bats as a major leaguer this October.

“I think for anybody in my position it’s something you think about,” Belt said thoughtfully from a plush leather chair inside the Jays clubhouse. "I’ve got a family and that’s really what it’s going to come down to. I think I’ve shown that physically I can go out there and be very competitive and very productive. So it’s got nothing to with that. I’m just going to have to sit down with the fam after the season and see where things go from there.”

If it ultimately is the end of an impressive, accolade-filled career that started in 2009 as a fifth-round pick, Belt will have gone out the way he wanted to from a personal point of view.

He’s hoping the team angle — and another ring — slides into place in the coming weeks, too.

“I definitely had some goals in mind and just wanted to prove to myself, among other things, that after last year, after a tough season and being injured all year, I knew I still had what it took to compete at a high level and I did that,” he said. “I think that just validates what I thought. I’m also trying to come back and win a World Series and that’s what I’m trying to do right now. As far as the physical part, I think I’ve got a few years left in me, it’s just a matter of what the whole family wants to do.”

If he continues to play, there’s only one motivation.

“When you win two in your first three seasons, four seasons, it’s a little bit easier to take it for granted, you know?” Belt said. “You’re think you’re going to have a chance every other year to go win a World Series, but you learn quick that it’s obviously not that easy and you’ve got to get a little bit lucky and you’ve got to be with some really good teams. That’s really the driving force from here on out for me.”

Owner of a pair of World Series rings from his time with the Giants, the championship he won in 2014 — his second after the 2012 title — is the one that matters inside the Jays’ clubhouse today.

The format is different than the one-and-done scenario of yesteryear, but Belt has still taken the long route from wild-card team to World Series winner.

The Jays will have to take that path this season.

“This is exactly why he signed here, for this time of year and a chance to get in and hopefully make a deep run,” Schneider said. “Very laid back and funny guy, but this is what he lives for.

“I think everybody understands, too, there’s a lot of really good teams around the league so it doesn’t matter how you get in, it matters how you’re playing when you do.”

With less than a week to go in the regular season, Belt is very confident in what he’s seen from the dugout lately, and what could be ahead for this team.

“I feel good about our chances right now,” Belt said. "I feel like we’re hitting our stride at the right time. If this team gets hot, we can beat anybody. There’s no doubt in my mind.”