As you certainly know by now, the Giants just signed Buster Posey to an eight-year contract extension that guarantees he will be a Giant (unless the team trades him) through 2021 and that he will make at least $167 million during that period, including the $8 million he had previously agreed to be paid for 2013.
Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated writes that this signing is bad for free agency in the sense that teams will find it hard to get better through free agency, because the current trend is for teams to extend their best free agents through the peak seasons long before they reach free agency. That’s sort of true, except that most teams don’t really benefit a whole lot by signing expensive free agents unless (1) they’re the New York Yankees and can buy the best available free agents every off-season, or (2) they are only one or two players away from reaching or advancing in the post-season.
The current trend is that teams in the middle of the revenue pack have decided that it is better to extend their best players as soon as possible in the hopes that these players will be able to stay healthy. If said young star stays healthy, the team has effectively locked the player in at reasonable annual rates and usually for the best years of the young star’s career without as many of the old-age garbage years that usually come at the end of a true free agent contract. The young star gets a guarantee of future riches no matter what happens to him in the future.
This may be the hot trend right now, but we’ll see how long it lasts. Some of these contracts are going to blow up spectacularly on the teams signing them.
The two signings Corcoran discusses at greatest length, Posey and Joe Mauer, are cases in point.
Corcoran describes Posey’s 2011 injury as a “fluke” that won’t happen again because the Giants have instructed Posey not to block the plate any more. That’s nonsense. Catchers get hurt a lot regardless of whether or not they block the plate. They take all kinds of foul tips off their bodies, and the simple act of crouching behind the plate for 120+ games a season by a man who weighs more than 200 pounds is not something that can be sustained year after year after year.
Joe Mauer proves this point. The Twins gave Mauer an even bigger contract than the Giants just gave Posey and it’s already looking highly suspect. I’ve been writing for years that Mauer is too big a man to be the Twins’ primary catcher, and the evidence is bearing me out.
Mauer missed half of 2011 to injuries, and while he was healthy last year and hit fairly well, his best two offensive seasons were years ago at ages 26 and 23, a clear sign that playing a lot of games at catcher has affected his offensive performance negatively.
The Twins made the mistake of locking in 1Bman Justin Morneau to a long term contract long before he reached free agency. Morneau got hurt in 2010 at age 29 and hasn’t been the same player since. That allowed Mauer to play fewer games at catcher last season, which is good. However, it may already be too late, since Mauer no longer looks like the kind of hitter who could be a major star playing most of his games at 1B.
At any rate, with back-to-back 95+ loss seasons the last two years, locking in Mauer and Morneau to long extensions sure don’t look like good moves by the Twins.
The Giants are facing something of a similar situation with Posey, although they presently still have flexibility. Given Buster Posey’s offensive potential, the Giants should be looking for every opportunity to play Posey at 1B.
However, current Giants 1Bman Brandon Belt looks on the verge of breaking out as a major star. Last year at age 24, Belt helped the Giants a lot more than some people may realize with his .360 on-base percentage and his Gold Glove caliber defense at 1B. This spring, Belt hit .410 with a 1.265 OPS.
If Belt’s 2013 spring training numbers aren’t a total fluke, Buster Posey isn’t going to be playing much at 1B in 2013 or for the next few seasons. Additionally, if Belt continues to develop, don’t be surprised if the Giants then lock in Belt long term and the Giants end up getting burned much in the same way the Twins got burned by locking in Mauer and Morneau.