The Giants are in true limbo behind the plate. Organizationally, they have one of the better catching situations in all of baseball. On the one hand, they have a tried-and-true franchise legend still under contract in Buster Posey. Not only was he the backbone of three, count ’em, three World Series titles, but he’s a class act and a fan favorite. In his prime, he was the platonic ideal of a franchise catcher. Admittedly, he is on the decline. Last season was the first since 2011 that the then-32-year-old didn’t make the All-Star team. He’s gone from a 130-start powerhouse behind the plate to more of a true timeshare 100-start guy. He also fell below 100 wRC+ for the first time in his career (save for his 7-game stint as a 22-year-old in 2009). And more to the point, he opted out of the 2020 season to care for his newly adopted twin baby girls. Again: class act.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Giants are blessed with two of the top catching prospects in all of baseball. Joey Bart, the #2 overall pick from the 2018 draft is ranked by Baseball America as the second best catching prospect in all of baseball. Then, with the 13th pick in this year’s draft, they snagged the top NCAA catcher available in Patrick Bailey.
So, yes, big picture, the Giants have an enviable catching corps. But they need to field the position for 2020, and that’s where things get a little sticky. Bailey, 21, has zero chance of jumping straight to the majors from college. He needs time in pro ball to develop. Bart is closer, but all indications are that the Giants want to give him more time, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s close, appearing in 22 games at Double-A last year and raking to the tune of .316/.368/.544. But a talent like Bart is worth the wait, and though he might be ready at some point this season, the Giants aren’t likely to contend. They don’t want to punt the first part of his career in sub-optimal conditions.
Enter Russell Martin? Schulman put forth Martin’s name as a possibility, noting that Justin Turner lobbied for the veteran to return to the Dodgers recently. Even in a part-time capacity, the well-respected Martin would certainly make some sense. The 37-year-old backstop proved he still had a role on a ML club last season with the league-leading Dodgers. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said that the Giants will have to evaluate their internal and external options, and if nothing else, they’re likely going to need someone else in camp just to catch the pitchers on hand.
Without him, the Giants are looking at Chadwick Tromp, Tyler Heineman, and Rob Brantly as the top options from their player pool. Combined, they have 464 big-league plate appearances (429 from Brantly, 11 from Heineman). Brantly, 30, is by far the most experienced of the three, but he hasn’t seen substantive time in the majors since 2017. For the rebuilding Giants, they’re probably most concerned with their ability to handle pitchers and less concerned with contributions at the plate – which is the best argument in favor of pursuing a vet like Martin.
There are catchers out there they could acquire via trade, but with 60-man player pools, catchers fill a very particular need, and player movement has never been more complicated than it is now. Still, they could engage the Rockies’ for Elias Diaz or the Rangers for Blake Swihart, Tim Federowicz, or Nick Ciuffo. Those are just options from teams in their regional pool because, again: player movement is not simple anymore. For those reasons, Martin probable represents the best outside option.
The Giants support Posey in his decision, and they’re going to continue to work with Bart and Bailey to get them ready for their big-league debuts. Maybe Bart will find a way in intrasquad play to prove himself ready. Or maybe one of Tromp, Heineman, or Brantly will seize the opportunity. What we know for sure, the Giants have 60 games ahead in the 2020 season, and they’re going to need a catcher for every one of them.