Heading into the 2021 season, Buster Posey was somewhat of a question mark for the Giants. The former NL Rookie of the Year and MVP had long since cemented his place in franchise lore, but Posey battled hip, hamstring and concussion issues from 2017-19 before opting out of the 2020 season. Posey had hip surgery in Aug. 2018, and his 2019 return wasn’t exactly peak form: .257/.320/.368 with seven home runs in 445 plate appearances.
Even the most bullish Posey fans would’ve been hard-pressed to predict the type of rebound that has since unfolded. Posey has not only returned to form but is arguably in the midst of the finest season of what could end up being a Hall of Fame career. And while his future with the club might not have been certain even four months ago — not with a new front office, a checkered recent injury history and one of the game’s top catching prospects looming in the minors — that no longer appears to be the case.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that the Giants fully intend to keep Posey beyond the 2021 season — be it via the $22MM club option they hold over him or, perhaps likelier, on a multi-year extension like the two-year deal just brokered with shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Not long ago, it looked likely that the $22MM option would be declined in favor of a $3MM buyout. Posey, however, has done enough this season to make even that weighty sum look like a bargain. The 34-year-old is currently hitting .325/.418/.540 with 15 home runs, 14 doubles, an excellent 13.5 percent walk rate and a 19.5 percent strikeout rate. He’s been 59 percent better than a league-average hitter, by measure of wRC+, and that comes during a season in which the average catcher has produced been 11 percent worse than league-average at the plate.
The Giants were able to get an in-season extension done with the aforementioned Crawford, but Posey suggested this week that he’s content to take a more patient approach. “For me, I think I’ll get to the end of the season and kind of assess at that point,” he told reporters, including John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link). “Talk to my wife and see where we are.”
Posey will play the 2022 season at 35, so the Giants surely would like to keep any new multi-year investments relatively short. Both the pricing of his club option and some recent contracts for Posey’s peers give some points of comparison. Posey will play next season at age 35 — the same age at which Yadier Molina’s three-year, $60MM contract with the Cardinals began in 2018. (He’s since re-signed on a one-year, $9MM deal after his production waned late in that three-year deal.) Meanwhile, J.T. Realmuto set a nominal average-annual-value record for catchers when he inked a five-year, $115.5MM contract with the Phillies this past offseason.
Any contractual talks with Posey will come with ramifications for top catching prospect Joey Bart, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft. The 24-year-old previously looked to be the Giants’ heir-apparent behind the plate, but Posey’s resurgence has thrown a wrench into those plans. Bart is enjoying a very strong season in Triple-A Sacramento, hitting .314/.379/.536 in 214 plate appearances. He made his big league debut, somewhat out of necessity, back in 2020 and scuffled with a .233/.288/.320 output in 111 plate appearances.
Bart already saw his name pop up on the rumor mill this summer, and a Posey extension would only further push teams to inquire about the possibility of prying him away from the Giants. That said, retaining Posey certainly doesn’t mean that Bart would become superfluous. Depth is always critical, particularly behind the plate, and while the Giants already have a very fine backup catcher in Curt Casali, he’s a free agent after the 2022 season.
It’s also quite possible that there will be a designated hitter implemented in the National League as soon as next year. Additionally, Posey has seen plenty of time at first base over the years, which could create additional opportunities for Bart. Incumbent first baseman Brandon Belt is a free agent at season’s end.
Depending on what happens with Belt and the universal DH, there could even be enough room for the Giants to carry three catchers on the roster in 2021 while still getting a reasonable number of at-bats for the whole trio. Those decisions will fall under the “good problem to have” umbrella whenever they more firmly present themselves. For the time being, the focus will be on finding terms that are agreeable both to Posey and to the team following the seven-time All-Star’s remarkable rebound.