We all know the drill by now. It’s been repeated by every San Francisco Giants publication, podcast, broadcast, and social media platform over and over.
Brandon Belt will be a free agent after this season. Brandon Crawford will be a free agent after this season. And Buster Posey — assuming the Giants pay his $3 million buyout rather than his $22 million contract — will be a free agent after this season.
That will be, at a minimum, a combined 42 years in the organization, 34 seasons at the MLB level, 9 All-Star selections, 1 MVP, and 7 World Series rings.
And it all could be gone next year.
But unlike with many former Giants legends who have approached late-career free agency, there isn’t a feeling of inevitability. In 2020, Belt was the fourth-best hitter in the National League. Crawford was a high quality starter. Posey didn’t play, but it’s safe to assume he’s still a quality baseball player, and his knowledge of pitchers and hitters is still second to none.
This isn’t like when Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum or Hunter Pence (the first time) approached their final days under contract. Buster and the Brandons still provide a lot of value beyond sentimentality and marketability. All three can help a good baseball team, and, barring severe regression, all three will likely field offers from good baseball teams in the offseason.
The Giants intend on being a good baseball team. Which means it’s pretty easy to arrive at the conclusion that they should at least consider re-signing one, two, or all three.
Let’s look at the case for — and against — all three, in alphabetical order.
On the surface, Belt’s departure would be the least sad of the three. He’s not the face of the franchise like Posey, and he’s not the heartwarming lifelong-fan-turned-homegrown-All-Star tale that Crawford is.
In fact, if I squint hard enough, I can find myself joyous about the thought of Belt leaving. He’s been bizarrely critiqued by odd segments of the fanbase and local media, often being treated as a top-10 pick who was a bust rather than a fifth-rounder who exceeded all expectations to become a perpetually under appreciated perennial All-Star candidate. And of all the players to wear a Giants jersey in the two-plus decades since the team opened their glistening waterside park in 2000, I don’t think any have been robbed of as many hits and home runs as Belt.
I don’t want to see Belt wear another jersey, but I’d be lying if I said the thought of him hitting 35 homers at the Great American Ball Park while Reds fans flood to Twitter to vote him into the All-Star Game didn’t make me smile a little bit.
And yet ... Belt is also the player it makes the most sense for the Giants to re-sign. We know the team’s front office craves two things in position players: versatility, and plate discipline. Neither of these three offer much of the former, but the latter has long been a world-class trait of Belt’s.
Belt’s walk rate last year was 16.8%, a figure that ranked sixth among NL hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. The five players ahead of him — Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Ronald Acuña Jr., Christian Yelich, and Freddie Freeman — serve as evidence for just how valuable that stat is, and how rare of company Belt found himself in.
The Giants also don’t have any first baseman waiting in the wings. Wilmer Flores is under contract for next year, but I highly doubt the team wants his glove playing 162 games a year. Austin Slater is fully focused on being an outfielder right now, and you have to go to No. 19 on our Community Prospect List to find a first baseman in the farm.
San Francisco almost surely needs to sign a first baseman in free agency. And Belt will be one of the best available, while likely still in their preferred price range.
More than the other two, Crawford’s future with the Giants seems to rest on what happens this year. Not just with him, but with the players around him, in and out of the organization.
Crawford had a very strong 2020, but his wRC+ of 111 was his highest since 2015, and the first time he’d graded out as an above-average offensive player since 2016. He’s 34, and while he still shows off plenty of wizardry on the field, the defense is diminishing. If regression comes hard, the Giants probably won’t think twice about saying goodbye.
But he’s not the only player to keep an eye on. Will Mauricio Dubón — who has played shortstop, second base, and center field for the Giants, and is reportedly taking reps at third now — prove a capable defensive player on the left side of the infield? And more importantly, will Marco Luciano?
Luciano is the Giants top prospect, and one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He’s currently a shortstop, and that’s where the Giants have been playing him this spring. Yet most analysts peg him for an eventual move to third base or even right field, due to his size. Even though he’s only 19, a 2022 debut is realistic, and if the Giants see his future being at shortstop, they might not want to block his path.
And finally: how many free agent shortstops are given extensions over the next few months? Next offseason is currently littered with high-caliber shortstops, including Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Javier Báez, and Marcus Semien. If the Giants want to make a splash in free agency, they can do so at shortstop — unless those names get taken off the board before they’re ever on it.
Seen through that lens, Crawford seems the least likely to return. He’s the least versatile (Belt can potentially play left field or be a designated hitter if the league goes that way in 2022, and Posey can play first), the oldest, possesses the fewest traits that make the front office salivate, and occupies a position where the team has many options.
Then again, if they decide to platoon shortstop, he could be the perfect player to re-sign.
Posey’s the hardest player to see the Giants cutting ties with. Part of that is because he’s the only player on the roster that you could envision the front office re-signing primarily for sentimentality’s sake. Part of it is because he feels like a valuable addition to any team, in any capacity. And part of it is because last year he told The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly that “I don’t see myself playing for any other team.”
And yes, part of it is that it’s just incredibly difficult to close your eyes and see him wearing any other jersey.
Last year’s debut season from Joey Bart was a harsh reminder of Posey’s value. Even if you take away the bat, Posey is a valuable catcher just with his mitt. And as Bart — at the time a top-10 prospect on many lists — struck out 41 times in 111 plate appearances, while struggling immensely to catch Johnny Cueto, we were all reminded that there’s no such thing as a surefire prospect. Bart may be a No. 2 pick, but he’s not guaranteed to be an All-Star, or even a quality everyday catcher.
There is a reality in which Bart tears the stitches off the ball in Sacramento and earns the starting role for 2022. But it’s not as likely as the reality of him looking like someone who could benefit from a sturdy veteran presence and some slow playing next year. And even if Bart does excel in AAA, it wouldn’t be that surprising if he found himself headlining a deal. The farm does have some nice depth at the catcher position, after all.
We haven’t seen Posey since 2019. He’s two years older now, but presumably a lot healthier. We’re about to find out how much he has left in the tank. But whether the Giants need an everyday catcher in 2022, or someone to play every third day while mentoring their hot prospect, they sure could do a lot worse than Gerald Dempsey Posey.