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‘Surefire lock’: How Giants are envisioning Buster Posey’s 2021 return



Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It sounds as if Buster Posey is wearing his pandemic weight a bit better than everyone else.

The Buster Posey who shows up for Giants spring training next season, no longer with hip concerns and feeling far better about his family staying safe from the coronavirus, may be a stronger Buster Posey than the one who opted out of the 2020 campaign.

Gabe Kapler has seen the catcher around Oracle Park a few times. Posey’s mind seems just about ready to play again, and his body the same.

“He really is in great physical condition. I think everybody will notice when they see him that he’s added some muscle, some usable lean tissue. He’s looking agile and strong and fresh,” the manager said over Zoom on Tuesday. “I think the time off gave him an opportunity to reassess where his body was, and he’s taken that opportunity to make improvements, some physical conditioning improvements.”

The kind of improvements that would suggest he would play 162 games next season? No.

But: “Kind of difficult to say an exact number of games a week we expect Buster to catch,” Kapler added, “but obviously everybody on this call knows he’ll be our primary catcher.”

And thus a glaring Giants weakness this past season becomes projected as a strength. Posey was the lone Giant to remove himself from a season played alongside a pandemic, having adopted twin babies and not wanting to either leave them for months or risk their health. Without him, Tyler Heineman, (briefly) Rob Brantly, Chadwick Tromp and Joey Bart combined to give the Giants catchers collectively the sixth worst OPS (.591) in baseball. Their defense, while passable, was not nearly at the level of one of the premier defensive catchers in baseball history. Among the what-ifs for a team that finished one game from the playoffs concerns what would have happened if Posey played.

Posey made a video Oracle Park appearance at the end of the season, congratulating Mike Yastrzemski on being named the Willie Mac Award winner and telling the outfielder he can’t wait to rejoin him next season. Concerns about Posey not coming back before COVID-19 is vaccinated away from everyone’s lives appear unfounded, the 33-year-old telling The Athletic he’ll play next season.

He’ll return to a staff anchored by Kevin Gausman, who signed with San Francisco in the first place in part to throw to the legend. He’ll return to a Bart who’s lost a bit of his prospect luster after debuting with plenty of struggles at the plate.

There were debates about how the Giants would handle the catching spot when No. 2-overall pick Bart arrived. Those debates are no longer relevant after the now-24-year-old struck out 41 times in 111 plate appearances.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that last year was a challenge for Joey on a number of different levels,” Kapler said of Bart, who slashed .233/.288/.320. “We think that the development time that he had at the major league level was really good for him, and we’ll continue to assess his readiness.

“And just think about Buster as a surefire lock for our Opening Day roster and the lion’s share of the reps back there.”

It’s possible and probably likely Bart opens the 2021 season in the minors, with either Tromp or a more veteran option flanking Posey. Posey will be an upgrade regardless, but how significant of one?

His bat looked rejuvenated in spring training 1.0. As did the bats of Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, who made major strides last season. Posey is no longer dealing with recovery from hip surgery but is fighting the clock at 33 years old. The Giants have a club option for 2022, making next season his possible farewell to the Giants (and possibly to baseball).

Or perhaps he’ll show the Giants why he deserves another pact.

Posey is “not just a voice we’ll lean on heavily between the lines,” Kapler said. “We’re going to utilize his brain and his body to the best of our ability.”