The 2020 season was supposed to include a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Giants' first championship team in San Francisco, which means this was also going to be a celebration of a decade of stability behind the plate.
Since Buster Posey was called up and picked up three singles and three RBI on May 29, 2010, the Giants have for the most part not had to worry about the catcher position. There were injuries, big and small, but on Opening Day every year, the Giants knew they had an edge behind the plate. Posey started on Opening Day nine consecutive times, a franchise record, before opting out of the 2020 season.
That was the biggest moment of the year for Giants catchers, followed a few weeks later by a long-anticipated promotion. Here's a look back at the year that was for the catcher position, and what's ahead for the Giants.
Giants catchers ranked 26th in the majors in OPS (.593) and homers (4), and finished 23rd in bWAR. They drove in 18 runs and batted .217 as a group. Even with Posey's numbers tailing off in recent years, this isn't at all what they've come to expect at Oracle Park.
Posey's decision to opt out accelerated the timeline for Joey Bart and forced Tyler Heineman and Chadwick Tromp into unfamiliar roles, but that wasn't the only issue. The Giants shouldn't be blamed for failing to have a better backup plan for Posey, because there was no need last offseason to get a veteran who might be around for just a couple of months as Bart worked his way through Triple-A. But looking back, it hurt that this was the one year recently where they didn't have a Nick Hundley or Stephen Vogt to step in.
Bart ended up leading Giants catchers in playing time but had a .232/.290/.313 line with no homers. He had 38 strikeouts to three walks.
Tromp became Johnny Cueto's personal catcher and was certainly the most entertaining Giant to walk into the Zoom Room for interviews, but he hit .217 with 20 strikeouts to one walk. Tromp did homer four times, accounting for all home runs from Giants catchers. Heineman had good plate appearances, but he was 8-for-41 with one extra-base hit and spent the second half of the year in Sacramento. Rob Brantly rounded it out with an 0-for-3 before being DFA'd.
This is an easy one. It was clear when Posey missed the first day of camp that something unexpected was going on, and a week later the longtime face of the franchise made it official. Posey absolutely made the right decision, prioritizing the health of two baby girls who are doing well.
It still was a stunner when the news came down, though, and he ended up being the biggest name to opt out of the 2020 season.
We'll give you one on each side of the ball. While a lot was thrown at Bart, he still has to be disappointed that one of those early doubles didn't clear the wall. Perhaps that would have taken some weight off his shoulders. Scouts have always expected Bart to have some swing-and-miss in his bat, but power has been his calling card, so it was surprising that he wasn't able to put one out in 99 at-bats.
On the defensive end, the early catcher interference calls were baffling and costly. The Giants cleaned it up, but having four in the first 18 games cost the pitching staff some runs in a season where every edge ended up mattering.
Under new coach Craig Albernaz, the Giants increased their emphasis on pitch framing, and it was easy to see the changes. Tromp went all-in on the one-knee-down style and Bart regularly did it to try and steal low strikes, something he was particularly good at with Kevin Gausman and his splitter on the mound.
Overall, all three catchers finished above average in Baseball Savant's strike rate, with Tromp ranking 21st in the majors in framing. He was even better per Baseball Prospectus' called strikes above average (CSAA), ranking sixth overall.
Prospect to Watch
Patrick Bailey will have a path unlike any other first-rounder in franchise history. In a normal year, Bailey would have played a few weeks in Salem-Keizer to get his feet wet. Instead, he spent July at Oracle Park working with the big league staff and players, and then worked out at the alternate site for two months.
People who were there said Bailey was one of the most consistent performers in Sacramento. He got some reps at first and will continue to do so, but his future behind the plate appears bright, and he could play his first minor league games in San Jose next summer since he took such a step forward this year.
The 2021 Plan
The bad news was this was as bad as Giants catchers have been in more than a decade. Even the 2011 group had a higher OPS. The good news is it was almost certainly the low point for at least another decade, with Posey on the way back and two top prospects waiting.
Posey turns 34 next spring and was below-average at the plate in 2019, but he has gotten a full year to rest his legs and surgically-repaired hip, and the Giants are hopeful he can have a late-career renaissance, just as Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt did under Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind. Posey talked about those three in a recent phone call with Gabe Kapler.
"He had high praise for our hitting coaches and was really impressed at our ability to score runs and string big innings together, and specifically called out the work that Donnie, Justin and Dustin have done in the cage dating back to our first spring training," Kapler said. "I know he's excited to work with those guys going forward."
At the very least, Posey will bring stability defensively and with his game-calling, particularly for a bullpen that still has a lot of moving parts.
The Giants need to take Aramis Garcia off the IL, which means they'll soon have five catchers on their 40-man roster. That's not ideal, which makes Tromp and Heineman candidates to get DFA'd, although one or both could be back as depth.
Farhan Zaidi has made it pretty clear he would like Bart to start next season in Triple-A and could even bring a veteran backup in to compete with Garcia -- who is nearly done with his rehab after hip surgery -- and anyone else in-house. Bart needs a bit more development, but the hope is that at some point next year, he joins Posey to give the Giants a productive duo behind the plate.