The Other First Base Solution from San Francisco
For the last year or so one name that has been occasionally mentioned as a solution to the Yankees first base problem is Brandon Belt. The Giants first baseman would be a natural fit for the Yankees, he is powerful enough to have a career slugging percentage of .455 while playing in AT&T Park, so could probably hit close to 30 home runs a year in Yankee Stadium. Belt also has always been good at drawing walks and getting on base. The tall lefty is a very strong defensive first baseman who would make all the Yankees infielders look better. The major problem with Belt is that he is coming off another season where he lost a lot of time to injuries, including a concussion that ended his season and raises some questions about his longer term future. A healthy Belt is underpaid and under team control for several years, but if he continues to struggle with concussions, that contract that pays him $51.6 million over the next three years will be a problem for any team that acquires him. Belt would help the Yankees, but the dilemma the Yankees face is that they don’t want an injured Belt, but the cost for getting him will rise quickly if he starts the season healthy and hits well in April and May.
If the Yankees want to improve at first base, there is another player on the Giants who would be a more intriguing option. Buster Posey has been the face of the Giants franchise more or less since he was brought up to the team during the 2010 season. He has led them to three World Series victories and is a likely future Hall of Famer. However, he will be 32 years old when the 2019 season opens, may not be a full time catcher anymore and is clearly in the decline phase of his career. From 2012-2015, Posey posted an OPS+ of 145. Over the last four seasons, that number has declined to 117. That is still valuable production, but not what is needed from the middle of the order on a contending team, a role the Giants expected him to play in 2018. Moreover, Posey is owed $88.5 million over the next four years, so the Giants are stuck paying him more than what he is worth at this phase of his career.
In many respects, Buster Posey’s value to the Giants is limited, but for the right team he could still play a valuable role. The right team would have to have enough power so that Posey, who can still get on base with a good frequency, but is no longer a major home run threat, would not be expected to be the big bopper. It would also have to be a contending team who would benefit from using Posey as an occasional catcher because of his great skill at handling pitchers, particularly young ones. If that team happened to have playing time available at first base and DH, but had a young catcher who was expected to be the starter but who might benefit from Posey’s experience and guidance that would be even better.
The Yankees fit that description perfectly. Because he is adept at first base and catcher, Posey could be the team’s regular first baseman while also doing some catching and, depending on how well he hits, get some at bats at DH as well. If he caught 40-60 games a year, Posey could spell Sanchez, but could also take over full time if Sanchez gets hurt or if his defense becomes an insurmountable problem. If Posey’s power comes back, he would have to play full time, but there is enough flexibility on the current roster for him to do that. Lastly, there is no reason to think Posey cannot handle playing in New York. He has lots of postseason experience and has been a big star in a big baseball town for most of his career.
Posey may not be available at all because he is the face of the Giants franchise, but the Giants are about to hire a new GM, one who may evaluate players based on what they can do over the next few years, rather than what the mean to the team’s recent history. Any GM who takes the former approach will be anxious to move Posey, recognizing that his best days are behind him, and begin to rebuild in earnest, something everybody outside the Bay Area understands the Giants need to do. Trading Posey would ensure the new GM faced an initial backlash from fans, but in the long run it is probably something the Giants have to do. The Giants are very excited about Joey Bart, a 21 year old catcher who was the number two overall pick in last year’s draft. Bart is a few years away, but is already being groomed as Posey’s successor.
This means the Yankees will probably have to overpay for Posey. On the numbers alone the Yankees could probably swap Justus Sheffield and another prospect for Posey, but because of what he means to the Giants, the Yankees will have to sweeten that pot, perhaps adding Clint Frazier, a couple of young high ceiling arms, or depending on other moves, an established big leaguer. It would be a trade that neither fan base would like right away, but that in the long run could work out for both teams.
Photo: cc/Eugene Kim