When an injured player is set to return in the world of football, managers love to refer to the player as being “like a new signing.” It became one of Arsene Wenger’s catchphrases at Arsenal, such was his fondness for the saying.
In the case of Buster Posey, the Giants’ face of the franchise and primary catcher, his return to action ahead of the 2021 season really can be considered like a new signing.
After opting out of the shortened 2020 season for the safety of his newly-adopted, prematurely-born twins amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Posey has been vocal in his intent to be back with the Giants next year. Speaking to multiple journalists this week, Posey made it clear that he intends to be back behind the plate at Oracle Park, with his manager Gabe Kapler going as far as to say Posey is a “surefire lock” to be San Francisco’s catcher once more.
The Giants sure did miss him in 2020, both on and off the field. In his stead, Chadwick Tromp, Tyler Heineman and top prospect Joey Bart largely struggled to make up for Posey’s absence. Offensively, the Giants’ catching corps could only muster a meagre 63 wRC+ (per Fangraphs), 26th in the majors. They hit just four home runs as well (27th in the league), with Bart missing out on the first of his career in agonising fashion, cruelly denied by inches of the outfield wall a few times.
Defensively the trio weren’t much better. Early season issues with catcher’s interference calls often derailed momentum and when Bart was called up, his inexperience with the pitching staff led to some struggles, impacting his overall performance. 2020 was a learning experience for the young Bart, no doubt. The rookie showed glimpses of his supreme talent and the future is still bright for Posey’s heir, but Bart will benefit from more seasoning in the minor leagues.
With a healthy and rested Posey restored to the roster, many of the Giants’ catching woes should disappear.
I was still awake on Tuesday 15th December and fortunate enough to watch Kapler’s Q&A Zoom session with the media. The Giants’ manager expertly fielded many questions but the session was bookended by queries surrounding Posey’s return. Kapler couldn’t hide his enthusiasm. The idea of finally having his signal-caller and leader on the field is exciting, for all of us. Kapler’s first year as manager in San Francisco was largely successful but many of the concerns and issues dealt with by the skipper could have been reduced if he had Posey to call upon. Entering his second year in charge, Kapler will feel reassured to have Posey with him this time.
— The Athletic Bay Area (@TheAthleticSF) December 15, 2020
As a hitter, Posey may no longer be the goliath he was in his prime. His unforgettable 2012 NL MVP campaign (.336/.408/.549 slashline, 24 HR, 103 RBI, 10.1 WAR) will be revered by Giants fans forever but Posey hasn’t performed at that level for some time. Since 2018 he’s hit just 12 homers and he will be 34 years old at the start of the 2021 campaign. Expecting him to be the star of the lineup is probably a stretch too far, but having a year off from the brutal wear and tear of catching will have done his body the world of good. The major hip surgery Posey underwent in the summer of 2018 is a thing of the past as well, and early reports indicate Posey should arrive at Spring Training in great shape.
If you expected the phrase “he’s in the best shape of his life” to turn up in this article, well you can go ahead and mark that one on your bingo card.
There is further cause to be optimistic when you consider the Giants’ hitting coaches and the remarkable work they did this year with fellow veterans Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. The Brandons were statistically relevant for the first time in years, both surprising and delighting fans with their newfound output at the plate. Posey will surely be wondering what the coaches have in store for him, and how they can breathe life back into his bat.
We must also recognise the potential Oracle Park has to offer Posey upon his return, and the changes within the stadium that led to an offensive revival for the Giants’ lineup in 2020. Posey will have noticed what the altered outfield dimensions did for his teammates, and how the covered archways in right field made the ballpark more dynamic for hitters. He will be anxious to get out there to see how he’ll fare in an offensively-kinder environment.
Despite his decline with the bat in recent years, his poise behind the plate is undeniable and should not be underestimated; Posey is still considered to be among the finest defensive catchers in the game. His experience, game management, and ability to control a pitching staff will prove invaluable, especially to Kapler who continues his development as a Major League manager. The Giants’ young pitching staff will benefit enormously from the guidance and composure of a veteran who has been among the game’s elite for a decade.
Ultimately, the Giants are a significantly better team with Posey on the field. I for one will be glad to have him back.
Ash Day is covering the San Francisco Giants as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29