Giants hoping healthy offseason will help get Buster Posey back on track

Giants hoping healthy offseason will help get Buster Posey back on track

SAN FRANCISCO -- The familiar faces kept coming through the center field wall. Cody Ross and Pat Burrell popped out, and soon came Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco and Barry Zito and so many others who have been part of championship runs. It ended with Tim Lincecum, who drew the loudest ovation on the final day of the Giants season.

Bruce Bochy watched it all from the infield, marveling at how many old friends had gathered in one place. A few feet away, so did Buster Posey. 

"I haven't seen a lot of those guys in a long time," Posey said an hour later. "Hopefully with 2020 coming up, we'll get to see more of them at some point next year."

The reunion of that 2010 championship team will have the same effect on Posey. It will also be another reminder of just how long he's been doing this. Most of his teammates during those championship runs have long since retired. Bochy just rode off into the sunset. Pablo Sandoval's future is uncertain after Tommy John surgery. Madison Bumgarner very well could be elsewhere next February. 

Posey is, for now, the last man standing, but there's murkiness in his future, too. The 32-year-old is coming off the worst season of his career. He essentially was in a timeshare with Stephen Vogt over the final two months, and another option behind the plate is coming fast. Joey Bart is the organization's top prospect and should be ready early next season, just as Posey was nearly a decade ago. 

There are so many reasons to wonder what will happen next, but when president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi sat down with Posey late in September, he preached optimism. 

"One of the things I said to him is, 'I know you're disappointed with the season that you had, but I think we all need to take a step back and realize how far you came over the course of the season,'" Zaidi said. "Sitting here a year ago, I didn't know when he was going to be ready to play, if he was going to be ready to play, and certainly Opening Day seemed like a stretch coming off the surgery he did.

"I just feel like in cases like that, players of that stature coming back from major surgeries, we move quickly from 'If he is going to be ready, is he going to play?' to having the same incredibly high expectations that we have of that player."

It was easy to forget when Posey caught Bumgarner's first pitch on Opening Day, but for most of the winter, there was real doubt about his status. Posey's 2018 season ended in August when he elected to have major hip surgery, and most of this spring was spent getting up to speed. As he got off to a slow start, some teammates quietly wondered if Posey was rushed back, but Posey felt ready in late March and the Giants were eager to take anything he could offer. 

Even as the offensive numbers continued to dip, team officials talked up Posey's defense, which remains well above average. Posey was third among NL catchers in Defensive Runs Saved (14) and threw out 24 runners, tied for third in the league. He had just one passed ball in 846 1/3 innings behind the plate and, as always, received rave reviews for his work with a young pitching staff. When the final in-season SABR Defensive Rankings -- which play a part in Gold Glove voting -- were released in August, Posey trailed just J.T. Realmuto and Austin Hedges.

"I think with Buster we didn't appreciate what he was coming back from and appreciate what he was able to do," Zaidi said, "Which was continue to be an elite defensive catcher and certainly have stretches this season where we saw some of the offense that he's provided in years past."

There were nights and series when Posey seemed to be coming around, but he ended the year with a .257 average, .320 on-base percentage and .368 slugging percentage, all of which were career-lows. His OPS+ was 84, which put him below league average for the first time as a big leaguer. A year after he hit five homers in 448 plate appearances, Posey had just seven in 445 plate appearances. He didn't go deep at Oracle Park until the final week of the season. 

[RELATED: Zaidi believes in prior experience for Giants manger opening]

Posey experimented with subtle swing changes during the season and said he has an idea of more notable alterations he can make this winter to try and regain some of his past form. In theory, it should help that Posey will head into this offseason with just normal aches and pains rather than on crutches, but he said he doesn't want to count on a "normal offseason" setting him up for a bigger 2020.

"You hope so, but at the same time you don't want to make excuses," Posey said. "I don't ever want to be somebody to say, 'Oh yeah, if you get a normal offseason everything will (be fine).' You go and do what you do and do the best you can and go out and give it what you've got. That's ultimately all you can do.

"I don't think it's fair to speculate that if I get a 'normal' offseason (things will change). I mean, I'm hopeful that it'll make a difference, but we'll see."

Former Giant Gerardo Parra finds home with Nationals in World Series


Former Giant Gerardo Parra finds home with Nationals in World Series

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez answered nine questions during his press conference last week after the Nationals beat the Cardinals and clinched a spot in the World Series. By far the longest response came when Martinez was asked about a player who started this season with the Giants. 

Gerardo Parra was supposed to be a temporary outfield solution for the Giants, but he was designated for assignment on May 3, clearing a spot for Mike Gerber, who had gotten off to a hot start in Triple-A. In Washington D.C., Parra has been exactly what the Giants hoped they were getting. 

The 32-year-old outfielder's stats don't jump off the page. He had a .747 OPS and eight homers in the regular season after catching on with the Nationals, who gave him 204 at-bats, about twice what he ended up getting in San Francisco. But Parra's energy has made a difference for a team that was 19-31 but recovered to take down the rest of the National League. 

The Giants at one point hoped to see the same in their own dugout. Parra and Yangervis Solarte were brought in during spring training and immediately injected a bit more life into a clubhouse that has too often relied solely on Pablo Sandoval's liveliness. They were popular in the clubhouse, serving as mentors for younger players and dancing in the dugout even as the Giants got off to a slow start. When the two were let go in early May, Bruce Bochy repeatedly called them "great guys." But the Giants couldn't justify any more at-bats for veterans in a season going nowhere. 

"As a player, it's a game of production," Bochy said at the time. 

The Nationals had plenty of it in their lineup, and Parra and others have helped keep the clubhouse on course during a surprise run. The Nationals dispatched of the Brewers, Dodgers and Cardinals and will begin the World Series tonight in Houston. 

Parra has just three at-bats during the postseason, but a late pinch-hit appearance in the NLCS clincher was one of the more memorable moments of the series. As they have done since Parra changed his walk-up music to "Baby Shark" in June, Nationals fans erupted when the veteran outfielder was announced. 

Martinez later joked that he only put Parra in the game to get the fans going in a tense spot. 

"What he's done in that clubhouse has really changed the way these guys go about their business," Martinez told reporters. "I mean, it was business ... he made it fun for this team."

The Giants hoped to latch on to that, but Parra served another purpose, as well. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi brought in several well-liked veterans on cheap non-guaranteed deals to try and keep the lineup afloat until reinforcements could arrive from Triple-A. 

Gerber was not the answer, and Mac Williamson's ensuing cameo didn't work either. But eventually most of the at-bats ticketed for Parra ended up being given to Mike Yastrzemski, a revelation who can serve as a full-time starter moving forward. 

That was never going to be Parra's role in San Francisco, but the Giants did try to work him in early as a versatile defender who could provide some production from the left side. It was impossible to keep him around, though, when he started the year with a .198 average through 30 games. 

Parra caught on with the Nationals shortly after the move and it couldn't have worked out better. He'll be in the dugout during a World Series game tonight, wearing his tinted sunglasses and giving massive hugs to young teammates and generally serving as a key glue guy for Martinez. Perhaps at some point over the next week, the Baby Shark routine will take over a key moment of the World Series. 

As he celebrated a pennant last week, Martinez recalled how Parra had met with him during a slump shortly after he joined the Nationals. The veteran was down because he wasn't hitting, but Martinez implored him to just bring energy, play loud music in the clubhouse, and keep pumping up a young team that had gotten off to a disappointing start. That's a message Bochy has given to Sandoval at times. 

[RELATED: Mark Kotsay enters Giants manager interviews as favorite]

"After that, he started hitting again, and he came back to my office a few days later and he goes, 'Hey, thank you. I didn't realize that I need to have fun, too,'" Martinez recalled. "I said, yeah, hey, bring it every day ... it's what you bring on and off the field that I care about, and he's that guy. Those guys up there, every one of his teammates love him -- love him. All the fans love him. He's just that guy. He's the Parra Shark."

MLB rumors: Mark Kotsay entered Giants manager interviews as favorite

MLB rumors: Mark Kotsay entered Giants manager interviews as favorite

As the Giants watch the World Series from home, their search for a new manager continues. Replacing a legend like Bruce Bochy won't be easy, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi can't wait forever. 

Interviews have begun, and the favorite coming into the process might be someone who would just have to switch sides in the Bay Area. The Athletic's Andrew Baggarly reported Monday that "word around the industry is that [Mark] Kotsay entered this process as a favored candidate." One source also told Baggarly that he would be surprised if the Giants didn't hire Kotsay.

NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic first reported on Oct. 9 that the Giants would interview Kotsay, who currently serves as the A's quality control coach.

Kotsay, 43, had a 17-year MLB career where he spent four seasons -- 2004 through '07 -- as an outfielder for the A's. Zaidi was a baseball operations analyst in Oakland when Kotsay played for the A's. 

Kotsay retired after the 2013 season and became a special assistant in the San Diego Padres' front office the next season. He then served as the Padres' hitting coach for the 2015 season and was the A's bench coach in 2016. 

[RELATED: Could MadBum's ugly road stats hurt him in free agency?]

The Giants already interviewed in-house candidates Hensley Meulens and Ron Wotus. The San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman and John Shea reported Monday that San Francisco also interviewed Cubs first base coach Wil Venable on Friday.

Other reported candidates include Astros bench coach Joe Espada, Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler