Jerry Crasnick has an excellent, worthwhile column up at ESPN about the future of Buster Posey, All-Star catcher. The first time Posey put on a catcher’s mask at Florida State, there was probably someone in the stands saying, “You know who would make a good first baseman?”, and for years we have mocked these people. However, with Posey turning 30, the suggestion is moving from silly to practical, which was entirely predictable.
At some point, Posey won’t be a catcher. He will probably be with the Giants when that happens. This is fair to acknowledge now. It’s no longer silly.
However, I am not announcing my retirement from the Posey Stays Behind the Plate PAC. I’m still on the board of directors. Because while it’s logical to wonder how long Posey can stay behind the plate, it’s also logical to want him there indefinitely. And at the risk of spoilers, Posey explains why in the kicker of the Crasnick article:
"I'm not saying this in an egotistical way, but I think there's value in having a good hitter behind the plate and being able to put a bat at first base as well,'' he said. "Maybe my career is three years shorter this way. But I know I'm getting the most out of it.''
No, that’s it. The Giants are better with, say, Posey catching, Brandon Belt at first, and a real left fielder in left field. The trick is finding that real left fielder, of course, but that’s a totally different discussion.
Here, let’s use an example ripped straight from the headlines. First-base prospect Chris Shaw is currently hitting .283/.386/.517 for Richmond, which is fine work for someone in the early months of the Eastern League. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that he picks it up and is hitting .300/.400/.550 by June and gets a promotion. And let’s say he hits .330/.430/.630 in Sacramento for a month. Meanwhile, the starting outfield in a Tuesday night game against the Padres is Drew Stubbs, Justin Ruggiano, and Hunter Pence.
Are the Giants better with Posey catching, Belt in left, and Shaw at first, or are they better with Nick Hundley catching, Posey at first, and Belt in left? You know the answer to this. And it doesn’t have to be Belt in left, either. The same question applies to the outfielder of your choice. Let’s say the Giants do something wild, like “acquire a good left fielder.” Are the Giants better with Hundley catching and Belt on the bench in that scenario, just to get Posey out from behind the plate?
You know they aren’t, and you know that they aren’t better with Hundley catching and Belt sitting in any scenario. This is an argument about the short-term, which isn’t really the primary concern elaborated by Crasnick, but it’s going to work for every season. If ...
Replacement catcher + Posey at first + left fielder
... is better for the Giants than ...
Posey catching + first baseman + left fielder
... then the real issue is that the Giants need to get a new left fielder. This is a well-worn argument that you’ve read before, and it’s possible, if not likely, that you don’t need to hash it out again. But I just thought of a better way to explain it in one sentence, and it goes like this:
You never read these suggestions about Yadier Molina.
Here, see for yourself:
That’s not hyperbole. You never read this about Molina for a couple simple reasons. First, he’s excellent at catching and a clear asset to the Cardinals. Second, his bat is good for a catcher, but not as exciting for a first baseman. The average first baseman hit .259/.338/.453 last year, and Molina hit .307/.360/.427 — a difference of four OPS points. The Cardinals have been pretty good about finding first basemen who hit as well as Molina, so there’s nothing to gain by turning a great defensive catcher into one of them.
If I ran the Cardinals, I would try Molina in center, but only because I hate them. That’s probably not relevant.
The argument for moving Posey, then, is that he hits well enough to be a first- or second-tier first baseman. Leaving aside if that’s true (it wasn’t last year*), it’s still a bad argument. The Cardinals don’t turn Molina into an average- or above-average-hitting first baseman because they figure they can find those somewhere else and have a Gold Glove catcher at the same time.
* If you’re looking at Posey’s splits as a first baseman and thinking that a move to first base would make his bat that potent on a permanent basis, don’t forget that when he plays first, it’s usually against a left-handed pitcher. That’s the real reason he hits better as a first baseman.
If this is an issue being forced by Posey’s health, that’s different. If the Giants suddenly have a catching prospect who can also hit like an average first baseman, that’s also different. But if you’re saying that Posey should be a first baseman so that he can be an average to above-average first baseman for several years longer than he would be an excellent catcher, my response would be that the Giants should get better at finding above-average first basemen. Or, considering the existence of Brandon Belt, they should get better at finding average to above-average left fielders.
Posey won’t catch forever, and the odds are good that we’re closer to the end of his catching career than the beginning. These suggestions aren’t ludicrous anymore. They’re just a little premature.