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.
The Giants' ability to produce impact players from within has been central to their impressive success in recent years. The evolution of the Brandons from solid regulars to stars, and the development of another not very widely heralded prospect, Joe Panik, into a very solid starter are the most recent examples of this. The Giants have also gotten a bit lucky with their farm system. For example, although it is unlikely to look this way at the end of the season, Matt Duffy, a player about whom a year ago all but the most intense Giants fans had heard nothing, is quietly having a better year (.279/.324/.388) than the major star, Pablo Sandoval (.251/.317/.371), who he replaced. In an era that is more competitive, with more teams, and more safeguards against dominance by wealthier teams, the Giants continue ability to produce quality players from within is an extraordinary accomplishment and one that goes a long way towards explaining those three rings.
Duvall is never going to be a big star and probably will never hold down a full time job in the big leagues, but he has brought needed power to a Giants bench that includes Joaquin Arias, Joe Panik and Ehire Adrianza who have combined for zero home runs in 286 plate appearances and Hector Sanchez who has three home runs in 168 plate appearances. Duvall is, like all those other players, a role player but he plays a different role. Duvall cannot catch or play the middle infield. He plays an adequate first base, but his real position is hitter.
The Giants were not going to play .667 baseball for the whole season, as they had through their first 63 games, but they certainly looked like a team that was too good to play .250 ball for a month. The easiest way to explain a collapse of this kind is to attribute it, in one for or another, to a change of luck and injuries. Luck and injuries certainly have played a role, but that is only part of the story.
Lincecum, however, is only under contract for another year and a half, but has been pretty bad over from 2012 to today. During this time he has an ERA of 4.77 and walked almost four batters per nine innings. He has also occasionally shown signs of his old self. He has averaged a strikeout an inning, was dominant coming out of the bullpen in the 2012 post-season and even threw a no-hitter last year. It is possible that some pitching coach somewhere thinks he can fix Lincecum and would like his team to get him. The Giants are unlikely to get much back for Lincecum, but a team might take his salary off their hands, and free up his spot in the rotation so that it can be upgraded.
The Timmy-Cain-Panda-Posey-Bumgarner Giants may never win another championship, but keeping that nucleus together is smart economic thinking and good for the Giants. If the Giants resign Lincecum and Pence, they will be poised to be a strong contending team in 2014, especially if they are able to add an above average hitting outfielder or a league average starting pitcher. It is unlikely that any trade of those two players would have left the team a similarly strong position for 2014.
Given the new structures and trends in baseball, player development may be more important than ever, but player development takes time. Between 2007-2011, the Giants had a very productive farm system, but have hit a bit of a downturn. That may change in the future, but is unlikely to change in the immediate future. Teams like the Giants who are looking to improve mid-season may look less to make big trades for name players and more towards adding international players or trying to bring players out of retirement, but as quick fixes these are less reliable and more difficult than simply trading for a player approaching free agency was in the past.
It is no surprise that a team that has won two of the last three World Series has a good farm system, but the discrepancy between how the system, and indeed the franchise, is perceived, and what it actually is remains significant. Posey and Sandoval are hardly unknown. The former was handily elected NL MVP and has ended both of his full seasons in the big leagues by catching the last strike of the World Series. He is one of the faces of the Giants and is poised to become one of the game's most visible and marketable stars Sandoval, for his part, has a colorful nickname, and was the MVP of the World Series last year. Belt, however, despite an equally colorful nickname remains virtually unknown outside of San Francisco. While Posey is generally known as a star player, Sandoval is still at least as well-known for his weight as for his hitting while Belt is probably still seen as a disappointment to many fans because like many players who derive much of their value from drawing walks, he is under-appreciated.
San Francisco Giant first baseman Brandon Belt has been the subject of some controversy as many Giants fans feel he has not been given a fair chance over the last season and a half while others believe he has been a disappointment. Belt, who began the 2011 season as the Giants’ top hitting prospect, spent most of 2011 moving back and forth from first base to the outfield, the starting lineup to the bench, and the big leagues and AAA. This year, Belt spent the first month or two of the season being moved in and out of the lineup before settling, at least for now, into the starting first baseman’s role
Keeping Huff on the roster, and in the starting lineup, on the hope that he has another good season left would be a mistake if all it did was block Brandon Belt from getting a chance to prove himself in 2012, but putting Huff at first base will have a negative impact on two other young Giants. Brett Pill is old for a prospect, but because of his power from the right side and ability to play both first and second base, could be an intriguing and useful player if utilized properly. Additionally, although the Giants hope that Buster Posey will be fully recovered from his injury, he will probably not be able to catch every game and also has played first base in the past. If Posey could play first more, Hector Sanchez, a top Giants catching prospect could fill in behind the plate. If, however, Huff is the full time first baseman, Belt, Pill and Sanchez or Posey will lose playing time. If Huff hits like he did in 2008 or 2010 that will be ok, but it is unlikely that he will.