This past Friday represented the essential end of Spring Training. While many teams played their final preseason game on Saturday, Friday represented the day when teams would pack up their gear from Florida or Arizona, leaving grapefruits and cacti for stadiums that fit 40,000 plus fans. For two teams, the Astros and Rangers, the regular season begins Sunday, but for most, April 1, a day historically meant for fools, will mark the beginning of the long journey to the 2013 World Series.
Most players refuse to allow matters like contract negotiations cloud their minds during the season, preferring to accomplish contractual duties in the preseason. So, it's not surprising that on Friday, three days prior to the start of the season, we saw three contract extensions. Two were of the 'monster' variety. Justin Verlander, Paul Goldschmidt, and Buster Posey all agreed to contract extensions with their respective organizations, with the combined sum of money put forth in these deals reaching more than $300 million.
I'm sure my fellow BTBS writers will explore each contract extension in detail, and almost every baseball writer in the country will do the same. When perusing each player and his respective new extension I noticed that while lots of the best pitchers in the game have recently been locked up (Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Zack Greinke), Buster Posey's new deal was unique.
Posey signed a nine-year $167 million deal that will pay the 26-year-old catcher between $10.5 and $20 million through 2016 and $21.4 million per season from 2016 to 2021. It is the largest contract ever tendered to a catcher in Major League history. Posey is one of the most deserving catchers for such a distinction, so the historic aspect of this deal can be left to the side.
In analyzing this deal, ESPN's Buster Olney quickly hits on one of the first talking points of Posey's extension:
"So after the Posey deal was announced Friday, some rival talent evaluators began to wonder when the Giants will start to consider moving Posey to another spot."
As a catcher, Posey has already withstood a horrific broken ankle. Remaining as one half of the battery continues to place greater stress on important body parts like Posey's knees and leaves him open to more high-risk situations for injury. Posey has played 20% of his MLB games at 1st base. Catching in four out of every five games is similar to the schedule for most full-time catchers in baseball, but instead of having that fifth day off, Posey plays first base.
Those numbers make me think that Manager Bruce Bochy, who recently received a contract extension of his own, will manage Posey's playing time behind the plate well. He'll most likely give Posey more games at first base by 2016, at which point Posey will be 29 years old and will be in the fourth year of his extension. At that point, unless his defense has improved to where he's invaluable, we should see an attrition in Posey's games played behind the dish.
Speaking of defense, Posey isn't stellar according to the metrics. He's compiled 11 defensive runs saved in 3 seasons, posting his lowest total of 0 DRS in 2012. According to Fielding Runs Above Average, Posey is below average, compiling a -2.9 FRAA since 2010. On the other hand, Posey handles a very difficult pitching staff and does it well, especially for a catcher his age. At 26 Posey has guided two San Francisco pitching staffs to World Series victories. He handles the often-erratic Tim Lincecum, the sidewinding southpaw Madison Bumgarner, not to mention some crazy cats in the bullpen like Brian Wilson, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla. Posey adds value behind the plate, but it doesn't show up in the stats.
So, has any catcher ever been extended like Posey? The only legitimate comparable is Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
"From ESPN Stats and Info, more on the Posey deal: The contract is the longest ever for a catcher, and trails only Joe Mauer's $184 million in terms of total value among catchers."
And from SB Nation's own McCoveyChronicles:
"He has Mauer's contract, basically, but with an extra year tacked on."
Joe Mauer was and is a prolific hitter, a player who makes incredible contact, sports a high wOBA (.377 career) and high BABIP (.345 career). He has never shown the consistent power stroke that Posey so deftly possesses, but once he won the AL MVP, the Twins saw him as the franchise player and locked him up with an eight-year, $184 million contract extension. Mauer, like Posey also suffered significant injuries with stints on the disabled list for knee, back, and lower leg issues. These are typical catcher-related injuries, ones that Buster Posey might incur in the future. Mauer compiled 10.8 fWAR in his first three seasons, in comparison to Posey's 12.6, and based on defensive metrics, the players aren't too different. This quick side-by-side shows that Posey's ability to hit for power, as well as get on base, gives him the early career advantage.
Due to Mauer's injury history, the Twins have been moving him around between catcher, 1st base, and DH. Mauer has played 48 games since 2011 at 1st base, and Baseball Prospectus projects that 25% of his playing time in 2013 will be at designated hitter with just 50% will be behind the plate. Mauer, at age 29, could see only half of his playing time behind the plate, which is similar to my prediction for Posey in his age 29 season. The major difference is that the Twins have the DH to play with, while Posey will almost assuredly play first base. Given Posey's even more productive bat and shorter injury history to this point, it would seem quite reasonable for him to see 40 percent of his playing time in 2016 at first base.
Still, let's let the future be the future, and let Giants fans and Buster Posey celebrate his coronation as the next great Giants franchise player. As SB Nation writer Grant Brisbee put it:
"For now, though, Buster Posey is a Giant for a long, long time. All it took was 1.3 Zitos to make that happen, so I'm okay with it. Worry about tomorrow tomorrow, but that part about the earlier tomorrow, where you were worried about Buster Posey leaving the day after tomorrow? Not going to happen."
Food for thought: Will Buster Posey's production live up to this monster deal? By 2016 what percentage of Posey's playing time do you think should be as a catcher and why?