It was supposed to be the Buster Posey era in San Francisco in 2010. The highly-touted draft pick from Florida State that signed the largest draft bonus in club history was supposed to be taking his position behind the plate on Opening Day this year, working with arguably one of the best pitching staffs in the Major Leagues, and helping the Giants in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Well, the pitching staff is still doing well (at least the starting pitching anyways), and the Giants are still in the hunt in the NL West (they enter a three game series against the first-place San Diego Padres today), but Posey is in Fresno, playing in ballparks all across the Pacific Coast League rather than the National League.
You could contribute a lot of things really. Bengie Molina overestimating his value on the market (he turned down a two-year deal from the Mets because he wanted more money, only the Mets pulled the deal on him at the last minute and decided to go with Rod Barajas instead). Bruce Bochy's undying love for "veterans." Brian Sabean second-guessing himself.
Whatever the specific (or combination of) reason(s), the fact remains this: Molina and Eli Whiteside are in the Majors, and Posey is not and it's a shame.
Why is it a shame? Look at Posey's stats. He's proven so far in 2010 that he's too good for the PCL. In 30 games, Posey is hitting .345 with five home runs, 21 RBI and has an OPS of .994. Furthermore, it's not just his offense that has been impressive either. Posey has a caught stealing rate of 50 percent so far this year, and the Fresno Grizzlies pitching staff and team has flourished. The Grizzlies have the seventh-best team ERA in the PCL, and the Grizzlies are currently 20-11, the best record in the PCL.
Posey is ready for the Major Leagues. All he needs is the opportunity.
And that is the problem. There isn't one for him right now.
First off, Molina is doing well. He is hitting .333, has an OPS of .859 and a wOBA of .376. What has been most impressive about Molina has been his improved approach at the plate. After posting BB/K ratios of 0.28, 0.50 (actually pretty good for him) and 0.19 the last three years as a Giant, his BB/K ratio sits at 0.88 currently. Is that sustainable? Probably not, but it's a promising number, especially considering that Molina drawing a walk last year was about as rare as a good Tori Spelling show/movie/project post "90210".
What has been so key in Molina's approach? Swinging less and swinging less outside the strike zone. Last year, Molina swung at 59.5 percent of pitches and 43.9 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. This season? He has only swung 44.7 percent of the time and has only swung at 30.8 percent of pitches outside the strike zone this year. The more patient approach has paid off, as he has made better contact at the plate (he has an 88.4 percent contact rate this year in comparison to an 81.4 percent contract rate last year) and has gotten on base more (.402 OBP).
Molina though, despite his solid start, isn't perfect. Bochy has inserted him back in the lineup in cleanup hole, but he may be less suited for that role this season. While he has hit more line drives this year (20.4 percent), his HR/FB ratio is dramatically down at 5.3 percent. The lowest it has been as a Giant was in 2008, when it was 6.8 percent. Granted, Molina could improve that ratio and hit more home runs (since he is still hitting the ball in the air over 50 percent of the time), but at his age, that seems less likely, and thus, he seems less qualified to be the Giants' number four hitter in 2010.
Molina isn't the only blockade for Posey, however. Whiteside surprisingly has gotten off to a good start as well, which gives Sabean and Bochy even more of an excuse to keep Posey in Fresno. Whiteside is hitting .333 with two home runs in 35 plate appearances and has an OPS of 1.061 and a wOBA of .453. Additionally, Whiteside has a great reputation working with the Giants pitching staff, especially Jonathan Sanchez, who has had gotten off to very solid start in 2010.
Unlike Molina though, Whiteside's other numbers are far less impressive, and he seems to be more of a fluke this season than anything. His BB/K ratio in 35 plate appearances is 0.29. While that is an improvement from his BB/K ratio last season (when it was 0.17), it is still far from league average (which is 0.51 this year). Sure, Whiteside should be commended for his plate approach (he has only swung at 18.1 percent of pitches outside the strikezone this season), but he simply doesn't draw enough walks (5.7 percent this year, and ZiPS projects that he'll end up with a walk rate of 4.5 percent) and doesn't make good enough contact at the plate (74.5 percent contact rate) to merit regular playing time.
So, the Giants have three solid catcher who are all performing well. What should they do?
I know it sounds crazy, but the Giants seriously should think about shopping Molina. Already, he seems to be restless in San Francisco after not getting a better deal this off-season, and he seems to be pulling a "Brett Favre" (e.g. threatening retirement) by remarking that he is not keen on splitting time with Posey as well. If he is putting up solid numbers still by June and July, he would be a very valuable asset to a team like Boston or Seattle, a team that seriously needs a catcher. That way, the Giants not only get to promote Posey and give him his deserved shot, but they could get something of value in return. Molina may not generate as much value as in years past, but he is still a solid commodity that could earn one or two lower-tier prospects in return (which would be refreshing to see considering its the Giants always GIVING AWAY prospects during this season).
As for Whiteside? Keep him on as long as he's doing well, and then either a.) have him backup Posey when/if Molina is gone or b.) cut ties with him altogether. Seriously, I know Whiteside is a great story, but like I said before, history shows that he isn't a Major League catcher (and many people are in line with this thought as well).
This is all theory of course, but knowing Sabean and his "thoughts" on Posey and Triple-A, I doubt all this will happen. It's more likely to see a sixth season of "The Wire" than Molina traded away and Whiteside released to make room for Posey.
Giants Baseball: Where Blocking and Jettisoning Promising Players Happens!