It's hard to find a good comparable player for Buster Posey. It's not just the MVP or the two championships or the way it feels like he's talking just to you in his post-game interviews, staring through the screen, telling you secrets, confiding in you, coaching you on how to be a better person, making you listen for the first time in your life. It's also the odd career path. His MVP season was his first full season in the majors, for one. There are also the lingering effects of his ankle injury to consider.
So it's not as easy as picking a name out of a hat and extrapolating from there -- "Johnny Bench won an MVP. Let's pick him!" The only way to look at how this contract might play out is to look at a wide selection of young, successful catchers throughout history. Here's a list of catchers who accumulated more than ten wins above replacement before their age-26 season. Am I wild about using WAR to compare catchers throughout history? No. No, I am not. But as an era- and park-adjusted stat that's easy to search, it'll do just fine.
The list, ordered by career OPS+:
1. Buster Posey (12 career WAR, 146 OPS+)
Possibly the best comp for Buster Posey, Buster Posey is the leader in career adjusted-OPS for catchers 25 or younger. He is almost the best possible scenario for Buster Posey's career.
2. Mike Piazza (11 career WAR through age-25 season, 142 OPS+)
Gross. Don't worry, I used bleach on the top of that "2. Mike Piazza" header to disinfect it. Looks like some of it got into Piazza's hair. Again, gross.
But the point isn't to compare them as people or American heroes; rather, it's to see how some of the best young catchers in history held up. Posey's deal takes him through his age-34 season. If Piazza were signed to the same deal, would the Dodgers have regretted it? Not at all. Piazza's age-34 season was injury-fraught, but even at his worst, he was a three-win catcher according to Baseball Reference. Usually he was between four and five, with a couple of big spikes.
Now let us never speak of him again.
3. Rudy York (11 career WAR through age-25 season, 140 OPS+)
York was a seven-time All-Star, and he led the AL in homers and RBI in 1943. His last good year came when he was 32 -- he was pretty consistent until then -- and he was out of baseball by 35. If Posey had York's career path, the Giants would eat about $42 million in lost salary/production by the end of the deal, but they would have had a Buster Posey until then.
4. Joe Torre (26 career WAR through age-25 season, 133 OPS+)
Torre was on the Posey plan when it came from defense, splitting his time between first and catcher, with the bulk of his time coming behind the plate. He was moved to third base permanently when he was 30, and started to tail off a bit with three-win seasons from ages 31 through 33, and he was pretty much done by 34. If Posey follows the same path, the Giants would eat about $21 million at the end, but they would have had a Buster Posey until then.
5. Carlton Fisk (12 career WAR through age-25 season, 130 OPS+)
In Fisk's age-26 season, he suffered a knee injury, and everyone wondered if he was going to be the same catcher, so if you're looking for an injury-related, superstar-catcher comp, here you go. Fisk didn't just continue as a catcher, the dude caught until he was 45. In his down years, he was a league-average catcher with good defense, which is a pretty nifty player. Is it a $21 million player? In eight or nine years, it might be.
6. Johnny Bench (36 career WAR through age-25 season , 128 OPS+)
Nobody is a good comparable player for Johnny Bench, but if you're curious, he was essentially done by 32. If Posey follows the same path, the Giants would eat about $42 million at the end, but they would have had a Buster Posey until then. I doubt the Reds would have regretted the contract if the situations were reversed.
7. Joe Mauer (20 career WAR through age-25 season, 127 OPS+)
This is a big ol' incomplete, but it's worth noting that after Mauer's dud season in 2011, he's kind of a badass again. He plays a lot of DH and catcher now, and other than his MVP year, never had a ton of power, so he's probably not the best comparable player. But he is having twins, and he has won an MVP, so I guess if you search Baseball Reference's Play Index for that, he's going to come up as the only comp.
He has Posey's contract, basically, but with an extra year tacked on. Like Posey, Mauer's contract came immediately following the MVP season, which is my only regret with this deal. If Posey isn't quite the MVP superhuman that he was last year -- just sayin', put down the … good god, what is that? -- this contract will look a little funny right away.
8. Yogi Berra (12 career WAR through age-25 season, 123 OPS+)
Everybody pays attention to this guy because he's so underrated. He was also quite valuable through his age-34 season, so if Posey followed his career path, it would be a bargain of a deal. Posey needs only six more championships before the deal is up to catch Berra. Is there a place I can bet on that happening? Feels like there should be a place where I can bet on that happening.
9. Brian McCann (14 career WAR through age-25 season, 121 OPS+)
Another incomplete, but this one isn't looking good. At least right now, it isn't. His shoulder is wonky, and he's kind of gone from perennial All-Star to afterthought. Which is probably unfair. By a lot, actually. He's a free agent, though, so If he hits again this year, he'll be a rich man after this offseason. He's not going to come close to making/earning Posey money.
10. Jason Kendall (15 career WAR through age-25 season, 120 OPS+)
AIIIIIEEEEEEEEEE BOLT THE DOOR GET THE DAMN DOOR HURRY WHAT ARE YOU DEAF okay okay okay get into the root cellar come on come on DAMMIT HURRY HURRY HE'S COMING OH GOD HE'S COMING HURRY
So here's the worst-case scenario, or something like it. Kendall had a great year after his ankle injury, hitting .320/.412/.470 in his age-26 season. Then he fell completely in the toilet for ages 27 and 28, crawled out for some air when he was 29 and 30, and then went back in the toilet, where he bought a nice condo, after that.
Different players, of course. Kendall was a speedy guy, and he never had that much power. That slash line up there is more impressive to us now than it was back then because the leagues were much, much more hitter-friendly. From 2002 through 2010, Kendall played in 1,275 games, accumulating 5,348 plate appearances. He hit fewer home runs in that time than Posey hit last year. So while Kendall is a popular bogeyman when it comes to predicting the futures of different young catchers, it's hard to imagine Posey losing his power quite like that.
I mean …
11. Ted Simmons (22 career WAR through age-25 season, 120 OPS+)
This list goes to 11 because it's kind of cheating to list Posey as his own comp. Simmons had a nice, long, outstanding career, but his age-34 season was a flop -- the beginning of the end. There was a dead-cat bounce in his age-35 season, but that was it. If Posey follows the same path, the Giants would eat about $21 million at the end, but they would have had a Buster Posey until then.
So if Posey goes the way of Kendall, the contract will be a disaster. If it goes the way of York, Torre, Bench, Simmons, or, yuck, Piazza, the Giants will have a good-to-great catcher for six or seven years, and a difficult contract for the last year or two. If it goes the way of Fisk or Berra, the deal will look more than reasonable.
Bet on the middle scenario. There's a great chance Posey makes a lot of money for a little production by the end of it. But that's not really the point -- they're paying him a premium to make sure he's around for his 29-through-32 seasons in addition to the 26-through-28 seasons that he was already locked up for. As happy as this deal makes me, I still would have waited a year. But when you're complaining about too much Buster Posey, you're kind of an ass. So I won't.
In conclusion, Buster Posey is a two-time world champion, a Rookie of the Year winner, and an MVP. He also makes Mat Latos sad. If that isn't a person who deserves every penny I will ever give the Giants for tickets or merchandise for the rest of my life, who is?