The San Francisco Giants have had their fair share of great position players over the years, but very few of them have made their living behind the plate. In recent memory, such characters as Scott Servais, Yorvit Torrealba, and Bobby Estallela have populated the dish.
In addition, there have been those that have endeared themselves to us, like Benito Santiago and Mike Matheny, as well as those who have infuriated us, a la A.J. Pierzynski.
The last few years, though, have brought the art of catching back to San Francisco. Bengie Molina, a hated opponent since the 2002 World Series with the Angels, came to the Giants in 2007 after Toronto failed to resign him.
Since then the standard for catchers in San Francisco has been re-raised, and the future seems to hold a great catcher on the horizon, with Buster Posey rocketing up through the minors.
In this episode of Fate of the Franchise, we’ll take a look at the Giants major league catchers from this year, and look forward to what they’ll be doing next year.
Bengie Molina, three years/$16 million (2007-2009)
Bengie Molina coming to the Bay Area was a great day for the Giants. Mike Matheny had been forced to retire because of multiple concussions, and Molina was a premier free agent. Since that day, he has come to be an integral part of the San Francisco offense.
In 2008 he set career highs in multiple categories, including hits (155) and RBI (95). On a team that utterly lacked a power hitter, he also led the club with 16 home runs as well, and finished with a .292 average.
So far in 2009, as with many of the veterans on the team, his numbers have dropped. His OBP is at a career-low .275, he’s on pace for a career-high 77 strikeouts, and his clutch numbers are down. In 2008, Molina hit .316 with RISP, with 76 RBI. Comparatively, in 2009, his average is .237, with 46 RBI.
But the Giants are stuck with a problem. Molina’s contract is up after this year. He has expressed interest in staying with the team, but is not interested in platooning or being a backup if Buster Posey continues his meteoric rise.
However, Posey might not be ready to make his debut this year, which would almost surely take him out of the running for the starting job in 2010. The list of starting catchers available on the market is short, and Molina looks like a logical choice to stay one more year.
Due to Posey’s lack of Major League experience, it is my opinion that the Giants will find a way to keep on Molina for another year in 2010, preferably with some sort of option for 2011.
Eli Whiteside, one year/ $0.400 million (2009) and Steve Holm, one year/ $0.4015 million (2009)
Eli Whiteside is a solid backup catcher. He’s never had the skill to be an everyday catcher, but as his page says on Baseball-Reference, he hits grand slams and catches no-hitters.
Whiteside is a solid option for Bengie Molina’s day off. He is not an offensive force behind the plate, but when he’s in the squat, you can expect the pitchers to know what they’re going to get.
He’s a good receiver with a great attitude, and he also has the ability to knock out a hit here and there. Granted, more than half of his RBIs for the season came on that blast over the Crawford Boxes in Houston, but he’s not going up there as a second pitcher, and his strikeout rate is under 25 percent.
In a league where your backup catcher’s only requirement is to be passable, Eli Whiteside is right there.
Holm, like Whiteside, is a minor-league journeyman that was never destined for a starting job at the Major League level. He had a very short stint with the team this year, but I included him because he has experience in 2008 as well.
Holm is also a good receiver, posting a .997 fielding percentage in AAA Fresno this year. Offensively, he’s not a huge threat, but does have five home runs and 14 RBI in 54 games for the Grizzlies. That lack of life at the plate affected his status at the major league level, and Bruce Bochy just couldn’t find time to get him in earlier this season.
Their roles on the team will depend mostly on Posey’s progression at AAA Fresno. Since Posey’s progression also affects the signing of Molina and other free agent catchers, Holm and Whiteside’s statuses for 2010 are up in the air.
This is definitely a short episode of Fate of the Franchise, but a majority of the story depends on one Gerald D. Posey, who is currently progressing beautifully in AAA Fresno. For a much more in depth look at Buster, direct your attention to Part II of this episode, by way of Community Leader and Buster Posey expert Danny Penza.