Andrew Susac

Sanchez’s uncertain future could delay Posey position change

Buster Posey San Francisco Giants

It started with a tweet from Henry Schulman during Sunday’s loss in Kansas City:

It continued on the Giants’ off day with an interesting column by Tim Kawakami dealing with the possibility of Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum seeing new roles as early as next season. Neither discussion is anything new — Bruce Bochy answered a question about Posey moving to third base during the 2012 postseason (the same time Lincecum became a supersub for a month), and for a long time it’s seemed like the question is when Posey will get out of the squat (Krukow voice) for good, not if.

We’ll set aside the Lincecum-to-the-bullpen talk for the time being, mostly because he’s only signed for one more year. The Giants have no choice but to use him as a starter for the rest of this season, and converting him to a reliever next year wouldn’t exactly be a franchise-altering decision. Posey is under contract through 2021 at an average of over $20 million per season, and the reasons to make him a full-time corner infielder seem to be mounting.

His numbers as a first baseman

Posey has a slash line of .292/.361/.462 for his career as a catcher. In 393 plate appearances as a first baseman, Posey is a .364/.425/.568 hitter. The gap is widening, too: he’s hitting .259/.322/.410 as a catcher in 2014, .392/.444/.541 when playing first base.

I even spent a good portion of the afternoon going through each Posey plate appearance as a first baseman to see if this year’s numbers are inflated by an inordinate amount of chances against lefties. No dice. Posey has a .421/.500/1.182 slash line in 22 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, but he’s been no slouch against righties — .382/.424/.491 in 59 plate appearances.

Injury risk

Catcher is the most taxing position on the field, and Posey missed three games in a row this year due to “nerve irritation” in his lower back. Just because he didn’t hit the disabled list doesn’t mean he’s fully healed, either. Posey and the Giants would tell you his back is fine, but this is a guy who played through a broken finger in the final month of the 2013 season when it was clearly affecting his performance and the Giants were out of the race. Posey isn’t the only Giants regular to play through pain, but it’s only rational to consider taking steps to minimize the punishment absorbed by their most talented player if at all possible.

Pablo Sandoval’s contract situation

The Giants have proven in recent years that they’re willing to pay market value (and higher, in some cases) to re-sign their own players. However, there could be a bidding war for Sandoval after this season and negotiations between his representatives and the Giants didn’t go so swimmingly in March and April. With the Giants already on the hook for over $120 million before they sort out third base, second base, left field, the starting rotation and a subpar bench, positional and financial creativity could come into play this winter.

Hector Sanchez SF Giants***

There’s something to be said for finding solutions when a team is struggling; there’s nothing more frustrating than watching the same sad story unfold while those in charge twiddle their thumbs. However, moving Posey to a corner infield position wouldn’t guarantee they’ll be any better next season. Quite the contrary.

Catcher Hector Sanchez, who went on the concussion list July 26, suffered a setback Friday when he left a rehab game with Triple-A Fresno after taking a hard shot off the mask. ”He’ll have to get some tests,” Bochy said. ”There’s some concern there.” Bochy said it might be necessary for Sanchez to change masks, abandoning the hockey mask.

Update: Alex Pavlovic reported that Sanchez is back on the the DL while I was editing this story.

Even a neurosurgeon would find it impossible to predict the recovery times for Sanchez or Brandon Belt with any certainty. But the latest bad news regarding Sanchez seemed almost inevitable based on 1) how many shots he took to the head before finally succumbing to concussion symptoms a couple weeks ago, 2) how quickly he returned to action, and 3) the general nature of concussions. Even though he’s a lot younger than Mike Matheny was when his catching career was cut short, there’s no guarantee Sanchez will ever return and play semi-regularly at the major league level.

If Sanchez isn’t part of a non-Posey catching platoon, that just leaves Andrew Susac.

It sounds like a nice idea, moving the old man (Posey is 27) to third and pairing Sanchez (a 25-year-old switch-hitter) with Susac, who’s four months younger. Susac may have a bright enough future to start someday. He’s got a decent bat and arm, despite allowing seven stolen bases on Sunday, but he has only five major league starts. The Giants may want him to get the extra seasoning in Fresno that Sanchez never had, and there’s no reason yet to believe the Giants would hand Susac the starting job next spring.

Putting health aside … even though it’s no secret that Sanchez is Lincecum’s preferred catcher, he’s far from perfect as a pitch-framer and has one more passed ball than Posey in 2,700+ fewer innings. Throw in Sanchez’s offensive numbers, which have declined in each of the past two seasons, and it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than Posey is the organization’s best offensive and defensive catcher.

Then there’s Belt, who’s on his second seven-day DL stint. When healthy, he’s easily the best defensive first baseman on the team. If the Giants want Belt to remain at first, and Posey spends the next offseason training to replace Sandoval (only the National League Gold Glove favorite) at third, the Giants would still need to figure out a way to replace Sandoval’s bat.

There are no easy answers. Posey wants to catch as long as possible, but the Giants don’t want him getting saddled with concussion problems of his own. The team could handle this in a number of ways — they could re-sign Sandoval and trade Belt, leaving Posey at first, or move Belt to left field. They could put Posey at third base and sign a free agent catcher to support Sanchez and/or Susac. But as far as 2015 is concerned, Posey looks likely to remain at the position where’s he’s been named an All-Star twice. While moving Posey to third base or first base could keep Posey’s bat in the lineup nearly every day, and possibly boost his offensive production, it’d open up a huge hole at catcher, the position where the Giants appeared to be pretty well stacked just a few weeks ago.

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