On Thursday, San Francisco Giants icon Buster Posey announced his retirement following 12 big league seasons, three World Series championships, seven All-Star Game selections, and one Most Valuable Player award. Posey was the best all-around catcher of his generation, and when the time comes, he will receive serious Hall of Fame consideration.
The 34-year-old Posey certainly did not limp to the finish. He authored a .304/.390/.499 batting line with 18 home runs during his resurgent 2021 season, when he led the Giants to 107 wins and the NL West title. Posey played so well this year that the Steamer projection system pegged him as the fourth best catcher in baseball going into 2022:
- Yasmani Grandal, White Sox: 4.5 WAR
- JT Realmuto, Phillies: 4.1 WAR
- Will Smith, Dodgers: 3.6 WAR
- Buster Posey, Giants: 3.4 WAR
- Travis d'Arnaud, Braves: 3.0 WAR
Replacing that level of production will be damn near impossible, and truth be told, expecting Posey to perform like he did in 2021 again in 2022 would have been foolish. This was a best case scenario kind of season, and Posey would have gone into next year with more miles on his body and innings on his knees. Catchers his age usually turn into pumpkins.
That said, the Giants do now have to replace Posey. They're unlikely to replace him with a bona fide middle of the order producer because catchers who hit like that are rare, but they don't want to replace him with a journeyman backup type either. Here are the club's options to replace Posey on the eve of his retirement announcement.
All things considered, the Giants are in good shape to replace Posey internally. They have a top catching prospect knocking on the in Joey Bart, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft. Bart hit .295/.358/.472 with 10 home runs in 67 Triple-A games this season and has appeared in 35 games with San Francisco the last two years. He's done all he needs to do at the highest level of the minors.
MLB.com currently ranks Bart the No. 16 prospect in baseball. Here's a snippet of their scouting report:
Bart's bat speed, strength and the leverage in his 6-foot-2 frame give him well above-average raw pop, more than most catchers possess ... Bart has progressed from a high schooler with questions as to whether he could stay behind the plate to a potential Gold Glover. He has worked hard on his defense and has become a quality receiver who blocks balls well and displays a strong, accurate arm. He moves well for a big catcher and San Francisco pitchers praised his game-calling ability and leadership.
Turning the catching reins over to Bart and pairing him with a veteran backup next season -- incumbent backup Curt Casali can remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2022 -- is sensible. It's risky, the jump from Triple-A to everyday big league catcher is enormous, but Bart is very talented and should be able to handle it defensively at a minimum.
It should be noted the Giants have another top catching prospect in Patrick Bailey, the No. 13 pick in 2020. He .hit 322/.415/.531 in Single-A this season and is a few years away from the big leagues. The Giants could give Bart an extended look (extended as in 2-3 years), and if it doesn't pan out, Bailey's coming and would give the club another shot at a long-term backstop.
Scour free agency
Diving into free agency to replace Posey is always a possibility and it might be the smart move. The problem? This offseason's free agent catcher class is incredibly weak. Our R.J. Anderson ranked only one catcher among his top 50 free agents, and he was No. 49: Manny Piña. The longtime Brewers backup hit .189/.293/.439 with 13 homers in 208 plate appearances in 2021.
The only other free agent catcher this offseason with a chance to catch somewhat regularly next season is Yan Gomes, who hit .252/.301/.421 with 14 home runs between the Nationals and Athletics this season. His defense is slipping a bit and the more he plays, the more he gets exposed, but the 34-year-old Gomes is still a viable major league catcher.
Other free agent catchers include Robinson Chirinos, Sandy León, Wilson Ramos, Austin Romine, Chance Sisco, and Kurt Suzuki. Like I said, it's a very weak free agent catching class. Gomes and Piña are clearly the best of the best. So yes, the Giants could look to free agency to replace Posey. They're unlikely to be happy with what's available, however.
Look to the trade market
Already one potential catcher trade target is off the board:. Barnhart would have been the No. 1 free agent catcher by a significant margin and Detroit recognized that, so they sent the Reds a prospect and will exercise Barnhart's reasonable $7.5 million club option for 2022.
Even with Barnhart already moved, the catcher trade market is much more promising than the catcher free agent market. Willson Contreras (Cubs), Carson Kelly (Diamondbacks), Gary Sánchez (Yankees), and Jacob Stallings (Pirates) could all be available, with Contreras and Sánchez most likely to move, I'd say. Getting Kelly from a division rival could be difficult too.
Another potential trade target: Francisco Mejía (Rays). Tampa is likely to exercise their $7 million club option for Mike Zunino, which will nearly double his salary. Mejía is projected to make close to $2 million through arbitration next season and spending that much on a backup catcher is not very Rays-like, is it? Flipping Mejía to keep payroll in check is possible.
Losing Posey is a major blow to the 2022 Giants even if you didn't expect him to repeat his 2021 performance. All things considered though, the team is a good spot behind the plate. They have an MLB ready top catcher prospect in Bart, so they can dig through free agent and trade options without desperation. If something makes sense, great. They can act. If not, turning things over to Bart is justifiable.