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."

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