There has been much speculation over whether Buster Posey should shift positions to lengthen his career, and Wednesday night’s catastrophic collision that will likely sideline him for the season provides ammunition for both sides.
There is no question catching is a much more physically demanding position, and only a handful have fought off the many injuries to have long careers. Carlton Fisk played an incredible 24 seasons, Gary Carter and Yogi Berra 19 seasons each, and Johnny Bench 17 seasons — though the last three he played only occasionally behind the plate — are the exceptions and, of course, they’re all in the Hall of Fame.
Catchers are more often in the mold of the Molina family: slow men but tough, able to hit for occasional power, but not high average hitters. They are players whose lack of speed would prohibit them from playing another position, so they put up with the physical dangers of catcher so they can keep playing.
Posey is an excellent athlete, perhaps only slightly better than average as a runner but with quick reactions. There is no question he can play first base, where he played when he first came up last year before the Giants traded Bengie Molina. He could possibly play third, too, though if Pablo Sandoval can maintain his eating discipline, he should be able to hold down that position for years for the Giants.
There is a recent parallel for Posey. Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins has been a terrific catcher and hitter, but he’s broken down because of frequent knee problems. There’s serious doubt that Mauer will ever again be able to catch full-time.
But as a catcher, Mauer was very valuable to the Twins because he was a big offensive producer at a position that demands great defense.
Posey is the same kind of player. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award because, though he played in only 108 games, he hit .305 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs, while drawing raves for his handling of the young Giants pitchers.
In a full season, Posey would probably hit around .300 with about 25 homers and 90-100 RBIs. Those are terrific numbers for a catcher.
But, though Giants fans may not realize this because they haven’t seen a really good hitting first baseman since Will Clark, those are really below-average numbers for a first baseman. A team’s power is supposed to come from the corner infielders and corner outfielders. Plugging Posey in at first base would reduce the Giants’ hitting.
Perhaps he will have changed his mind after this last injury, but Posey has always said he wants to remain a catcher. He likes to be in charge of the game. He’ll have a shorter career as a catcher, but a more lucrative one.
The Giants have a small window of opportunity with their young pitching. They capitalized on it big time last year by winning the World Series, a goal that seems out of reach this year with Posey’s injury.
When Posey returns next year, they’ll still be in position to get back to the World Series because they’re in a weak division.
But with Posey at first base ... forget it.