After seeing San Francisco Giants’ 2020 first round draft choice Patrick Bailey arrive for his first major league spring training, fellow catcher Buster Posey said he began reminiscing about his debut camp in Scottsdale.
“When I was in Bailey’s shoes, we had Randy Johnson, Dave Roberts, Rich Aurilia and Randy Wynn,” Posey said Wednesday. “So I think it’s just interesting trying to look at it through his lens and thinking back and trying to remember what it was like for me.”
Johnson is now a 57-year-old Hall of Famer, Roberts is entering his sixth year as manager of the rival Dodgers and Aurilia and Wynn have both been out of baseball for more than a decade, spending time as Giants pre and postgame show analysts with NBC Sports Bay Area.
At 33, Posey could still have several years left in his career, but he showed up at Giants’ spring training this week bracing for some uncertainty. The franchise cornerstone elected to sit out the 2020 season after he and his wife Kristen adopted twin girls, so if Posey plays on Opening Day when the Giants meet the Mariners, he’ll have gone 550 days in between starts.
Posey’s résumé speaks for itself as the six-time All-Star is one of the best catchers of his generation, but after such an extended absence, it’s difficult for the catcher and the Giants to know how he’ll fare upon returning to the team.
“I think we’ll go into it with that level of thoughtfulness,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said last week when asked about a plan for Posey’s spring. “Understanding he didn’t play last year but also understanding he’s in really good physical condition and probably most importantly, talking to Buster about his progression and thinking about what his workload should be.”
When Posey threw on his chest protector and shin guards to catch new Giants pitcher Anthony DeSclafani’s bullpen Wednesday in Scottsdale, he was reminded of what he missed.
“It was definitely good to be back out there and I think you appreciate the little things,” Posey said. “Just playing catch, hitting in the cage, obviously the camaraderie as well.”
Posey acknowledged Wednesday that for the first time in his Giants career, he’s entering spring training without knowing what the future holds. The Giants made the Florida State product the fifth overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft, he debuted in September, 2009 and the club signed him to an eight-year extension after his 2012 MVP season, ensuring he’d spend at least a decade in San Francisco.
The 2021 season marks the final guaranteed year of his contract, and even though the Giants can exercise a $22 million option for next year, Posey’s most likely path to returning to San Francisco is under a new deal.
“Yeah sure, it’s gone through my mind,” Posey said when asked if he thinks about whether this will be his final spring training with the Giants. “For me, my biggest goal this year is to go, as cliché as it is, one day at a time.”
Posey’s teammates, and particularly the pitchers, are excited to see him return after the Giants struggled to find stability at the catcher position last year.
“Buster is a veteran, he knows the league, he knows the hitters,” right-hander Johnny Cueto said through Spanish-language translator Erwin Higueros. “The other catchers, they’re young, they’re learning and they will get better, but having Posey is going to be a great asset.”
Journeymen Tyler Heineman and Rob Brantly opened the year on the active roster, Chadwick Tromp replaced Brantly after a minor injury and top prospect Joey Bart arrived in the big leagues for a 33-game stretch, but the Giants clearly missed Posey’s presence.
Bart, who was selected No. 2 overall in the 2018 MLB Draft, is still viewed as Posey’s most likely successor, but he’s ticketed to open the season in the minors after the team signed veteran Curt Casali to serve as Posey’s backup. A decade from now, it’s possible Bart and or Bailey, who was a junior at North Carolina State last season, will be talking about Posey, Cueto, Evan Longoria and others the way Posey thinks of Johnson and Roberts.
For now, Posey is eager to return to his role and aid the Giants in a division with two teams expected to be juggernauts, the Dodgers and Padres.
“As much as I think the sports world loves to try and predict everything, there are still some parts of it that can’t be predicted,” Posey said when asked about the NL West race this year.
Computer models can project how the NL West and Posey’s stat line will look at the end of the season, but on the first day of spring training, predictions don’t matter to the players taking the field.