For the San Francisco Giants, the prospect of a Buster Posey positional change has been the elephant in the room for some time.
Now it is an unavoidable talking point that could form the Giants roster for years to come.
Even before he had his leg broken by a hard collision at the plate on Wednesday, it had been a rough year for Posey. He hadn’t suffered any major injuries, but the nicks, dings and dents that are inherent to the catching position had certainly taken their toll. It seemed like every game Posey was taking a foul tip off the facemask, spraining a finger on an errant fastball or catching a deflection off of some under-protected body part.
For any player, these types of nagging injuries would be troubling. For a young franchise hitter, they should be the impetus for a major change.
Catching has long been a position inhabited by the offensively challenged. Catchers not named Mauer won’t often lead their teams offensively, nor are they expected to. Catchers are a group that generally contributes through grit, toughness, smarts and determination. Their value is enhanced by their ability to shake off sprains, bumps and bruises, and persevere through the rigorous demands of the toughest position their sport has to offer.
That’s why it has always seemed strange that the Giants have allowed Posey to play catcher. His offensive value was never in question. Essentially, the toughness that he displayed behind the plate simply did not make him more valuable. His considerable offensive skills were valuable enough on their own.
Sure, Posey may enjoy the position—the interaction and closeness with the young pitching staff and the instant league-wide respect he garnered—but franchises don’t usually let their best hitting prospects in the last 15 years take beating after beating in the name of respect and camaraderie.
But this is exactly what the Giants did, and fans didn’t question it. Not because they weren’t worried, mind you—the idea of an injury to Posey had to lurk in the back of their heads somewhere—but these ideas remained buried because Giants fans were protected by a bubble of Posey love that came from watching a career that had seemed blessed by the baseball gods.
His story seemed too good to be true from the start. A young player breezes through the minor leagues and emerges to lead an unlikely group to a World Series Championship? It is a tale that even the most diehard fan wouldn’t have believed if an entire city hadn’t witnessed it with their own eyes.
So fans ignored the fact that Posey played the most rigorous, dangerous position on the field. We ignored the fact that the injuries were piling up in 2011, and that even before the broken leg that may ultimately end his season, the rigors of catching a full major league season seemed to be affecting him at the plate.
After all he was the golden boy, the savior of a franchise and long-suffering city. Who were we to doubt his ability to deflect injuries Terminator-style, and continue to dominate professional baseball like it was the most natural thing in the world?
Posey is still golden in the eyes of fans, but it is time for the front office to take a hard line with him and implement a position change. Not consider a positional change. Not have internal discussions about a position change. This injury should be all the catalyst the Giants would ever need to act decisively. It is time for Posey to move on from catching, no questions, debate or discussion is necessary.
Look, Posey’s a gamer. He loves baseball, loves to study the game and takes genuine pride in his performance both behind the plate and in the batter’s box. So he will never be the guy who steps into the manager’s office and asks to play a less demanding role. It just won’t happen.
But the Giants should not give him a choice anymore. A position change will positively impact not only the long-term future of Posey, but also the team itself. Offensively, Posey is the franchise. He is too important to the team to waste any more of his career in harm’s way. Playing catcher is one of the few positions in baseball that invites contact. Why put Posey in harm’s way unnecessarily?
“But Shaun,” I hear you saying to yourself, “What happens to Aubrey Huff if Posey moves to first? What if Posey can’t even play a decent first base? And who would catch on an everyday basis if Posey were moved?”
The answers to these questions are simple:
Ultimately, none of these issues are anywhere near as important as Posey’s health. Don’t get me wrong; Aubrey Huff is a nice player. I love watching him, and would like to see him finish his career as a Giant. But I would much rather watch him flail around the outfield or botch grounders at third than have to experience the fear and general “oh-god-no” sense that I got watching Scott Cousins violently plow into Posey, essentially ending his season.
As for Posey’s potential struggles converting to a new position, there is really only one point that needs to be raised; the guy once played all nine positions in a college game, and had enough left in the tank to record the save. Buster Posey is a natural-born ballplayer. He will adapt. It might take a month or two or even three, but I have no doubt that he can transform himself into a solid everyday infielder, especially at a position like first where hand-eye coordination and baseball intelligence trump athleticism and speed.
The question of who takes over for Posey behind the plate is harder to answer. Eli Whiteside could do it, but who’s really interested in seeing that? One of San Francisco's top prospects, Tommy Joseph, plays catcher, but no one knows if he is ready to contribute to a major league roster at this point.
This is a question that may remain unanswered, but one thing is clear: Whatever offensive hole exists in the Giants lineup due to the presence of a young or offensively limited catcher will surely be filled by the healing powers of a healthy Posey playing first, free of the constant contact and injuries suffered by catchers.
When Buster Posey was helped off the field last night, it should have acted as a giant (no pun intended) wake-up call to the San Francisco front office and coaching staff. The days of ignoring the realities of the catching position and hoping that Posey can play through them are over. Developing him as a long-term catcher was a risky proposition to begin with. There is no more room for risk.
It is time for the Giants to adopt a new perspective on their young star. It is time to stop toying with fate and move Buster Posey to first base.