Filed under: San Francisco Giants
By Wes Yee
It’s been nearly a full calendar year since San Francisco called upon its most valued hitting prospect in recent memory. Catcher Buster Posey has lived up to the hype and more, carrying the squad to a World Series title with both his consistent offensive approach and deft work while wearing the mask. It’s this offensive and defensive value combination that has recently raised serious questions about the long term future of the 24 year old.
Posey, who’s quickly vaulted himself into the discussion of top catchers in baseball (along with the Twins Joe Mauer and the Braves Brian McCann), has been taking an absolute beating this season. He’s taken numerous balls to the head and has scuffled compared to last season, when he won the ROY over Atlanta’s Jason Heyward – who’s dealing injuries of his own. While his play has been solid this season, logic would dictate that the toll of catching will, if it hasn’t already, impact his offensive value.
Having a team’s premiere offensive player be it’s starting catcher is both a blessing and a curse. It can be a huge advantage, as most catcher don’t provide even league average offensive. The downside is the missed game, tired swings and busted knees that these guys end up with. The Twins Joe Mauer is a perfect example of this, having missed nearly all of 2011 with leg problems. The Mauer injury has to give pause to the Giants, who have played Posey almost exclusively at catcher since trading Bengie Molina in 2010.
Even with Posey in the lineup, the Giants have a mediocre offensive attack. If they’re forced to rest him once a week for his health, that’s some 30 games a season they’re without their best hitter. If they don’t rest him, they risk a tired catcher who’s unable to hit for the kind of power he showed in 2010 – or worse, an injury. If they don’t play him at catcher, his offensive value is diminished as they’ll have to use a backup at his position. There are a variety of directions that manager Bruce Bochy can take including:
Resting Posey every 4-5 games – As detailed above, this would force a backup (Eli Whiteside) into Posey’s spot.
Playing Posey at 1B – He’s shown flexibility in the past, having played all nine positions in a game while at Florida State and can play a solid first base. The problem going forward here is that first base is already crowded. Aubrey Huff is the teams’ everyday guy and has shown that he’s unusable elsewhere. Brandon Belt is coming soon and should immediately become the teams’ second or third best hitter.
Playing Posey at another position – He grew up playing shortstop but almost certainly doesn’t have major league range at the position. He’s probably athletic enough to play third base for now, but Pablo Sandoval is (when healthy) an everyday guy there. Yankees catcher Russell Martin played some third base when he was with the Dodgers and it seemed to help keep him relatively fresh.
Making a trade – No, I’m not advocating trading one of the faces of the franchise. What I’m saying here is that the Giants could benefit from bringing in another player with catcher and other positional value. Perhaps a guy who can catch once or twice a week while providing enough offense and athleticism at another position to be an everyday guy. Victor Martinez (who’s signed long term with Detroit) is exactly the type of complimentary player I’m talking about. He’s generously defensively average, can play first base and is a middle of the order bat.
The Yankees top prospect Jesus Montero might actually be a fit as well, as most think that he’ll grow out of catcher and fits better as a Miguel Cabrera type first baseman. While a Montero-type bat would be huge at 1B/C – that still doesn’t solve the Huff/Belt block. While Belt would be a piece for most teams, he’d be blocked by Mark Teixiera in New York. The Giants would need to decide that he could play the outfield if they wanted to make a move like this. The cost of Montero could also be prohibitive, he’s worth a top prospect and a proven major leaguer. It might take a Jonathan Sanchez + Zack Wheeler combination to pry him away from Brian Cashman.
Testing the Pablo limits – The Panda used to catch and he famously lost 35 lbs in the offseason. Could he offer the 3B/C flexibility that the team needs? Even if he just caught once a week that would keep Posey in the lineup while saving his knees. They’d want to explore this option in the offseason.
What they’ll really do:
Montero or another Catcher-flexible bat is probably a pipe dream and it’s likely that the team will incorporate a hybrid of the first two or possibly three options. Employing a rotation where you’re resting either Sandoval, Huff or Posey twice a week won’t hurt the lineup too much and should help keep Posey fresh. It wouldn’t shock me to see Huff traded if the team can find an American League team in need of a veteran presence. Such a move would open the spot for Belt and the occasional Posey start. Belt could play the outfield or sit on days that Posey plays first.
So 900 words later there’s still serious question about what the team will do. While no immediate solution is needed, this has to be on management’s mind going forward. As an informal KNBR survey stated, there’s no player that the team can afford to lose less than Buster Posey and catching him everyday exposes him to serious risk and fatigue. It’ll be critical to look at the Twins as a cautionary tale of wielding the double-edged sword that is an elite catcher. This will become even more important when the time comes to extend its star catcher.
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