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Nine years an eternity for a catcher

Christian Petersen

Sunday night on ESPN, the fellas got to talking about the National League West this season, which soon led to this exchange:

Dan Shulman: The Giants, of course, just making a huge deal with Buster Posey: nine years, $167 million as they lock up their best player.

John Kruk: And a lot of people are going to question, why would they lock up a catcher for nine years. You know, he's a catcher -- he's more than a catcher. He can play first base, he can play third base, wherever they need him, he can play there. And there is talk about, in a few years moving him to a different position, to save the wear and tear and keep that productive offense in that arsenal.

A few seconds later, I found this amusing:

Because of course Buster Posey has never played a single inning at third base in his considerable professional career. Now, it's perfectly true that Posey began his college career as a shortstop, and also played shortstop in the Cape Cod League.

Seven years ago. Something tells me that if and when the Giants want to move Posey to a different position, it won't be shortstop and probably not third base, either. First base, maybe. And he's played some first base, including 29 starts there last season. It's telling, though, that Posey played only nine full games at first base last season; he's nobody's idea of Will Clark out there, and isn't likely to improve while playing there so irregularly.

The real problem, though, is that one of the things that makes Buster Posey a great player is that he is a catcher. At first base, his hitting become less valuable, especially if it means the Giants have to move someone off first base who's also a good hitter (which might well be the case, with Brandon Belt still loaded with potential).

Also, nine years is a LONG time for a catcher. Absent the devastating injury that cost Posey most of the 2011 season, he probably would have racked up around 15 Wins Above Replacement (Wins+) in his first three major-league seasons, when he was aged 23-25. Only seven other catchers totaled at least a dozen Wins+ in that age range, from Johnny Bench (17.4) to Thurman Munson (13.1).

Posey's contract is guaranteed through 2021, when he'll be 34. Here's how many Wins+ those seven catchers totaled in their Age 32-34 seasons:

??? Joe Mauer
4.5 Johnny Bench
4.7 Gary Carter
5.9 Joe Torre
7.6 Ted Simmons
7.8 Jason Kendall
10.3 Ivan Rodriguez
12.0 Thurman Munson

This is an exceptionally small sample size, with Mauer nowhere close to 32, and Munson dying during his Age 32 season; I projected his Wins+ in that season, and counted his Age 30-32 seasons. Which of course means we're really comparing apples to oranges, as he is highly unlikely to have totaled 12 Wins+ from 32 through 34.

If we expanded the sample, we would see roughly the same thing, as the next few players on the Ages 23-25 list are Carlton Fisk, Russell Martin, Tim McCarver, Rudy York, Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra, Mickey Cochrane, and Bill Dickey. With the exception of Fisk, none of those guys aged real well.

Does all of this mean that Buster Posey isn't worth $167 million?

I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that Buster Posey probably will not be a great baseball player six, seven, eight nine years from now. And almost certainly won't be as great then as he is now. Catching's just too hard on a guy. And yes, maybe it will help if he plays first base once a week or something. It's never really been tried before, and maybe that's the magic bullet. But probably not.

I'm not willing to say that Posey's not worth $167 million because I don't know how many more tickets the Giants will sell because they've locked up Posey forever, and because I don't know how much baseball player $20 will buy in 2021. Considering how much money Baseball's probably going to be raking in by then, maybe $20 million is what you're spending on utility infielders.

My suggest, though, is to enjoy Buster Posey's brilliance now. Because if you wait until the out-years of his incredible new contract, it'll probably be too late.

For more about Posey and the San Francisco Giants, please visit SB Nation's McCovey Chronicles.

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