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. 

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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."

Rays designate popular ex-Giants infielder Matt Duffy for assignment


Rays designate popular ex-Giants infielder Matt Duffy for assignment

A Giants fan favorite needs a new home. 

The Tampa Bay Rays designated infielder Matt Duffy for assignment Wednesday, and they now have a week to trade or release him. Injuries limited Duffy, who played for San Francisco for parts of three seasons, to just 199 games with the Rays after being traded to Tampa Bay during the 2016 season.

“Wish that his health and his time with us would have gone different in that regard and we could have had him on the field more,’’ Rays general manager Erik Neander said (via the Tampa Bay Times). “He really is a special player and there’s the obvious stuff you can measure in how he impacts a game. His intangibles, his leadership, his influence on a younger impressionable clubhouse like we have is worth a lot. And that especially made this a very difficult decision and we’ll certainly miss him in that regard.’’

Duffy played in only 46 games, slashing just .252/.343/.327 and posting a career-low .670 OPS. Despite those struggles, Duffy's Rays career ended with eerily similar statistics to that of his Giants tenure. Duffy played 54 more games in orange and black than he did with Tampa Bay, but his .281/.326/.399 slash line with the Giants was not far off from his overall .284/.351/.357 line with the Rays. 

The pitcher Duffy was traded for, Matt Moore, is long gone from San Francisco. Could Duffy make his way back to Oracle Park, either through trade or free agency? It's difficult to imagine, given the construction of the Giants' infield depth chart. 

Duffy has played the vast majority of his career games at third base, and Giants third baseman Evan Longoria is under contract through 2022 and owed $53 million until then, making a trade unlikely. Behind Longoria is arbitration-eligible veteran Donovan Solano, who posted a career-best .815 OPS last season. Right-handed shortstop Mauricio Dubon, who the Giants acquired in a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers, will at least back up Brandon Crawford next season, and Dubon's status as one of San Francisco's most promising young players will give him the priority in terms of playing time. 

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Plus, Duffy's connections to the Giants are largely gone. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, general manager Scott Harris and manager Gabe Kapler were not in San Francisco when Duffy was. The Giants are no strangers to bringing back one of their own, but it remains to be seen if San Francisco's newly formed brain trust values that in the same way. 

The Giants opted not to make any changes to their 40-man roster Wednesday, and they would've had a chance to acquire Duffy via trade. Neander said the Rays were unable to find a taker, but perhaps a team circles back now that Duffy has been DFA'd. It just might not be San Francisco. 

Why Farhan Zaidi says he still has faith in Giants' aging veteran core

Why Farhan Zaidi says he still has faith in Giants' aging veteran core

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has made a multitude of personnel moves since taking over control of San Francisco’s roster. 

A handful of holdovers remain from the previous regime, many of whom were part of the organization’s three World Series trophies in five years.

Guys like Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and others are facing increasing competition for innings after several rough seasons in a row for the Giants.

Zaidi wants to continue the team’s rebuild but isn’t going to just jettison every guy who’s not in their prime.

“Sometimes I think the change does not mean a change in personnel,” Zaidi told The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami on “The TK Show” podcast. “But a change in outlook and perspective.

“Baseball is a game where development should never stop, whether you’re a 22-year-old rookie or a 33-year-old veteran.”

Zaidi is hoping that the infusion of fresh blood into the Giants clubhouse should give every returning player an opportunity to re-evaluate their own roles and abilities.

[RELATED: Would Cole be perfect fit for the Giants this offseason?]

“As I view it, being a change agent doesn’t mean just turning over the roster,” Zaidi said. “But it means everybody reassessing where they are in their careers, what they do well, what their roles are, and trying to progress further for the betterment of the team.”

Expect to see some familiar faces on the Giants next season. But Zaidi and his new general manager Scott Harris likely will continue making moves throughout the offseason and even in-season, as we saw frequently in 2019.