On Thursday night, shortly after 7 p.m., Buster Posey will jog out to the plate, get in the crouch, and look out at Kevin Gausman, the fifth different Giants starter he has caught on opening day. In the dugout there will be a coaching staff he hasn't worked with before. The lineup will be full of players who have only worn orange and black for a relatively short time, but as they all look in for the first pitch, they'll have a sense of familiarity, a sense of calm.
For the 10th time, Posey will be behind the plate for the opener, and no matter what else is going on, that makes everything seem normal for the Giants.
Posey is entering his 12th big league season, and he has been the face of the franchise for most of that time. That's in large part because of a piece of paper he signed on this day eight years ago. The Giants and Posey agreed to a nine year, $167 million contract just before the opener in 2013, with president and CEO Larry Baer saying that day that it was the "largest and boldest commitment we've ever made to a player."
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It was also an absolute no-brainer.
"I would say in sports it's rare that you get unanimity on anything," Baer said last week. "But on this one we had total unanimity. Owners, the board, investors, the front office -- and that's rare."
The Posey deal, still easily the most expensive in franchise history -- the Giants unsuccessfully offered Bryce Harper $310 million years later -- was at the time the largest ever given to a player with less than three years of service time, more than doubling the previous high. It was the longest ever for a catcher and hasn't been surpassed. It was popular that day to call Posey a "Giant for life," and after the announcement was made the Giants tweeted out a photo of Posey and team executives at the Play Ball Lunch, adding the hashtag #SFG4Life"
But life can take funny and unexpected turns.
There were four other men in that photo. Bruce Bochy is no longer manager, Bobby Evans was let go in 2018, Brian Sabean is now an executive VP and advisor for the the new front office team, and Baer is no longer the control person for the organization.
Posey remains in place, but this season is his last with a guaranteed contract. The Giants hold a $22 million option for 2022, but with Joey Bart on the way, they can choose to buy out that year for just $3 million. If they had initially had their way, though, this point might have already been reached.
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Evans, assistant GM at the time, was the point man for negotiations, and initially the Giants targeted a six-year extension that would take Posey, who turned 34 on Saturday, through his age-32 season. But Jeff Berry, Posey's agent at CAA, had always driven a hard bargain. Negotiations after the draft came down to the final hours before the deadline, with Posey getting a franchise-record $6.2 million bonus. After Posey's 2010 debut, Berry successfully pushed for the largest contract renewal the Giants had given to a player without a full year of service time.
Berry had even more leverage in 2013. Posey was a two-time World Series champion by that point and had months earlier been named National League MVP. At 25, he was already a Rookie of the Year, All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner.
"We were not working from a place of strength," Evans said last week, laughing. "He's got the deck pretty well stacked against us, as he should have, with all the hardware he already had."
Today, it is more common to see deals that get into double-digit years. Fernando Tatis Jr. just signed a 14-year contract, Bryce Harper signed for 13, and Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are both on 12-year extensions. But in March of 2013, when Evans finished up with arbitration cases and shifted his attention to Posey's extension, there weren't many precedents. Evans remembers focusing on Joey Votto's deal from the previous year, which added 10 years to his existing contract. It was a daunting task to come up with the right numbers, but the Giants did not feel they were buying high after an MVP season.
"We didn't for a number of different reasons. First, he's a face of the franchise player, a rarity," said Sabean, who was GM at the time. "He's the quarterback of the team as well as a middle-of-the-order run producer. He had a lot going for him. Ownership, myself, Bobby and Boch, we were all of one mind. It was a pretty easy bridge to cross because of all the buy-in from everybody and the votes of confidence."
When the Giants did ultimately announce the deal and hold a press conference, none of the executives in the room, or Bochy, mentioned Posey's stats. Baer says Posey's personality, leadership and off-field work made it easy to get the entire ownership group on board with such a large commitment.
"If there was ever a sure thing for a long-term commitment that you're going to sign with a player, this was it," he said. "It's not just that at that point there were two championships. It's the leadership on and off the field, the position he played, the overall value he had to the organization, the way he came back from unbelievable adversity with the collision in 2011. While it was a lot of money, the agreement internally was really, let's do something that's fair for both sides and get it done and have Buster be with the Giants for as long as possible.
"We knew that a nine-year deal for a catcher was maybe not the standard, but we also knew that he wasn't the standard catcher. In the end, with long-term contracts, you're betting on two things. It's two parts athleticism and two parts character on the real long-term ones. I just remember there was unanimity on all that."
As Evans and Berry quietly exchanged ideas all March, the Giants moved to a seven-year extension -- on top of 2013 -- while also adding an option year to give Posey a little more guaranteed money and the organization a bit more control. Posey's side pushed back for guarantees through 2021, his age-34 season. The Giants agreed to the additional year while keeping the option for 2022. They ultimately bought out Posey's arbitration years and five seasons of free agency.
Posey took his physical the morning of the Play Ball Lunch, with the idea that Baer would tease something big at the event and then the organization would send out a press release. It ended up being announced shortly before noon, allowing Posey to get a standing ovation at the lunch, which coincidentally had been going on when Matt Cain's extension was announced a year earlier.
The Giants locked up three key players over that stretch, getting three very different results. Cain's production tailed off shortly after he signed a $127.5 million deal, and he ended up retiring when it was over. Madison Bumgarner's contract initially guaranteed $35 million but was worth more when options were picked up; still, it was an absolute steal for the Giants, who watched Bumgarner depart for the Diamondbacks when it was over.
Posey's deal was meant to please both sides, and it has. He was an All-Star five of the next six seasons and finished among MVP leaders twice while also winning a Gold Glove. Even with the decision to opt out of 2020, Posey has been worth 36.7 WAR since signing the deal, which kicked off with four consecutive six-win seasons. Teams value players in different ways, but purely off Posey's on-field production, FanGraphs values his work during the contract at over $280 million thus far. Plus, of course, he added a third ring.
"You take a risk with any kind of a big long-term deal, and we've had some that haven't panned out, as you know, but this one, we're very grateful that Buster has for all these years performed amazingly well," Baer said. "There's been nothing but positives, as we hoped there would be, in terms of his influence on the franchise, the clubhouse, the fans. We've had some really good years."
The most recent ones have been leaner, both for the franchise and Posey, who has watched his power dissipate over time. But he will hit the final guaranteed year as a catcher, which makes all involved proud. For years, Bochy faced constant questions about when Posey might move to first base. He never did, and manager Gabe Kapler recently said Posey likely will only catch this season. The Giants are hopeful he can start his usual 100-120 games behind the plate.
"The consensus back then was that our club was the strongest with his catching ability behind the plate, and for him to still be catching, I think that says a lot for Buster," Bochy said. "It's amazing the fact he can still go back there and handle a staff the way he's handling it now. He's a difference-maker behind the plate -- not that he wouldn't be good at first base. It still amazes me how well he played first base because he didn't work at it. He had more important duties, but he would go over there and play first like he was an everyday first baseman. But it's just so important to have him behind the plate."
The Giants always insisted Posey would stay a catcher and they were right. But now the sides face more uncertainty. The Giants put the option year in to have control at the end, but it'll be a different front office making the decision this offseason. Posey has said that he wants to finish his career in San Francisco, and the Giants will have to balance all that he has done with all they plan to do moving forward with a new set of players.
"Everyone wants to address that at a later point," Baer said. "It's obvious that Buster has an elevated place in the history of our franchise, and that's known, I think, by everyone ... his stature in the franchise is elevated and going forward we will take that into consideration."
The Giants watched Tim Lincecum finish his career elsewhere and Bumgarner will do the same. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt are both free agents after this season, and both want to continue playing. There are a lot of decisions to be made, starting with Posey. But the first time the two sides came to a crossroads, they found common ground with a record contract that ultimately turned out to be a remarkably easy decision.
"He's just a special type of player and person to be around. He's not outgoing, but he's just got a presence on a daily basis that's just made everyone better," Sabean said. "He's a rare beast, on and off the field."