Baseball fans love thought-exercises that amount to nothing because of how hypothetical they are. As a San Francisco Giants fan, I am no different. Should Alex Gordon have tried to score in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series? How many home runs would Barry Bonds have hit had he never juiced? Would the Montreal Expos have won the World Series in 1994 had the World Series not been cancelled due to an ongoing strike?
Call to the Pen
I cannot help my mind from making up outlandish baseball scenarios, especially during the off-season. As such, I will now attempt to answer a question so completely estranged from reality I ought to have my editors take my writing privileges away. Would I trade Buster Posey straight up for Mike Trout?
The conventional wisdom says I should. As much as it pains me to say it (like any self-respecting Giants fan, I worship at the alter of Posey), the conventional wisdom is right.
Trout is a better long-term investment than any reasonable GM could hope for. What makes Trout so mind-boggling good is how accomplished he is despite being so young. Trout turned 24-years-old last season– the age most big league players make their debuts. Trout, on the other hand, having debuted at 19 years of age, is now a five-year veteran and potentially still years away from hitting the prime of his career.
Posey was still playing for Florida State University when he was 19, where he was on his way to becoming one of the greatest college baseball players of all time. Posey debuted in the bigs at age 22. Still young by baseball standards, but now at 28 years-old, Posey is nearing a crossroads of his career.
May 13, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) leaps to catch a hit from Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (2) in the tenth inning of the game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Catching is the most physically taxing position on the field. Aside from squatting for the better part of 3 hours every night, Catchers take countless foul tips and errant pitches off their body each and every game.
Posey will need to be moved away from catcher eventually to keep his stellar bat in the lineup. Furthermore, it is likely that catching for the past six years with the Giants has already shortened his career compared to if he had played a different position. Conversely, Trout plays center field. While patrolling the outfield is another extremely important position, is not nearly as rough on the body.
Physically, Posey is as close as it gets to the Platonic Ideal (have you seen that smile?), but he is human. He will eventually wear down, and it will likely be sooner rather than later. Getting his left leg blown up by Scott Cousins in 2011 won’t help his long-term career either.
Fortunately for Posey’s longevity, speed does not affect his game. Speed is one of the first tools to disappear with age for athletes. Posey is slower than dirt, with eight career stolen bases, so he does not have much to lose in his overall base running ability. Moreover, speed does not affect the defensive abilities of a catcher or first baseman.
Conversely, Trout’s play will suffer as his speed deteriorates. Trout has already seen an alarming drop in his stolen base count. He swiped an incredibly 49 bases in 2012, then 33 more in 2013. However, his stolen base count fell off a cliff in 2014 to 16, and he nabbed just 11 last year. Furthermore, Trout’s spectacular ability in centerfield will be neutralized as his speed leaves him, likely forcing him to a corner outfield position later in his career. Still, even if Trout loses his speed, he will likely keep his other four tools longer than Posey can because of the trauma that catching everyday inflicts on the body.
Outside of Trout’s better odds of longevity, Trout leads Posey in nearly every offensive category. In every one of the past three years, Trout has led Posey in doubles, triples, home runs, RBIs, walks, slugging percentage and OPS. The one statistic that Posey is traditionally better than Trout in, batting average, is somewhat of a moot point as Trout has a higher on-base percentage—a similar but more important measurement.
Oct 29, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey reacts after defeating the Kansas City Royals during game seven of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
While Posey has the clear edge is in the postseason, comparing the two player’s postseason resumes is not just. The Giants have won three titles since 2010 and the Angels have yet to reach the ALCS. Posey cannot take all the credit for these achievements, but he can take some. Posey has caught nearly every game in all ten postseason series he has played in. The Giants won all 10. Trout has played exactly three postseason games in which he compiled just one hit.
Leadership is an intriguing point between the two. Both Posey and Trout are exemplary guys to have in the clubhouse–men you would take home to mother. Posey manages the pitching staff, a huge responsibility and as a catcher, he is involved in every play. However, Trout handles all the expectations that come with being the consensus best player in the league with grace, so he is no slouch in terms of leadership either. Posey may have the slight edge in leadership, but considering they both are grade-A character guys, it’s hard to say that this should be a factor in a potential trade.
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So Posey has the postseason and he has the freedom of having nothing to lose with speed. Unfortunately, Trout has everything else.
I love Buster Posey and everything he has accomplished so far. In fact, no one in the franchise’s 132-year history has earned this many accolades and championships in so few seasons. However, because of Trout’s age, the position he plays, and his power numbers, I would be forced to part with Posey in exchange for Trout if the opportunity presented itself. Luckily, there is about as much of this potential trade ever coming to fruiting as there is of either Posey or Trout winning the Cy Young next year.