It's a good time to be a San Francisco Giants fan
The team just won two out of three on the road against the Dodgers to open the season, Posey just signed a long-term contract extension, and now they're coming home for a weekend-long party. It's a pretty good time to be a Giants fan right now.
It's been a few months so let me give you quick reminder about what happened the last time Zito pitched against the Cardinals. The Giants were in St. Louis, down 3-1 in the series with their soft-throwing, guitar-playing lefty on the hill. And then in the course of one evening, he had Giants fans thinking that 7-year, $126 million dollar contract he signed in 2007 was worth it. He gave up six hits and no runs over 7.2 innings, struck out six and allowed just one walk. Casilla and Romo finished up the game and the Giants headed back to San Francisco where the magic continued.
The cheers that Zito will receive when he takes the field will be deafening, no doubt about it. But it won't just be for number 75, it's for the whole organization and the entire roster. Over the last couple of years, the Giants have made smart move after smart move. It's funny how acquiring a left-handed specialist like Javier Lopez or trading for a crafty, no-nonsense hitter like Marco Scutaro can make you look like a genius when things go well. GM Brian Sabean and Manager Bruce Bochy have made all the right little moves and pressed all the right buttons over the last few years, but so much of that success depends on a bounce here and an inch there.
In order to be in a position where a bounce here or there can win you a playoff series, you have to have made a lot of smart bigger moves. Like drafting Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner or making sure Matt Cain isn't going anywhere. In a baseball environment where the Dodgers payroll has ballooned over the last year and the A's put together a lineup of unheralded hitters, there is much discussion about the "best" way to put a team together. Some teams go after the big names and some rely on inexpensive youth. Most front offices and fans realize that a combination of the two is vital but many teams don't have this luxury, whether it's because they've traded away their top prospects or simply don't have the resources to keep rising stars.
The Giants are fortunate to be in a position where they can do both. They can spend money when it's needed to keep their studs, unlike the Marlins teams that obliterated their roster after winning championships. And the organization has developed some elite young talent, including a mostly home-grown pitching staff that has carried the team for years. This ability to have the best of both worlds is a massive advantage, but you need more to get to a position like the Giants are in now, where there is a big window still open for the Giants to keep winning well into the future.
That extra piece has a name. His name is Gerald Posey III but Giants fans just like to call him Buster. The guy hasn't even played two complete seasons in the majors (came up in the middle of the 2010 season and missed the majority of 2011) and he has a Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, a batting title, a Silver Slugger, an MVP, and two titles. Oh yeah, and he hit a massive grand slam in the decisive game of last year 's NLDS.
There have been a few players in baseball history, mostly Yankees, that simply took over the majors and started winning when they showed up. Yogi Berra and Derek Jeter come to mind. Berra got two rings in his first four seasons and Jeter got two in his first three years. Clearly, the Giants have some work to do to match the accomplishments of those two Yankee dynasties, but fans have to be feeling pretty good with Posey locked up for the next nine years. Posey has the edge in terms of personal hardware; Jeter finished a paltry third in MVP voting his second full season and it took six seasons for Berra to win the award.
There is something special about having your catcher be your best player. He instills confidence in the pitching staff and the rest of the position players and the coaches have to respect that he can lead the league in hitting and bat cleanup while playing the most physically demanding and toughest position on the field.
For what it's worth, Buster Posey is NOT the best player in baseball. Mike Trout, Robinson Cano, and Justin Verlander all had higher WAR last season and Posey is well behind Yadier Molina on the list of best defensive catchers. But if I were Brian Sabean, there's no way I would trade him for any of those guys. Even with his injury history and risk of future injury at the catcher position, I'd still keep him behind the plate as much as possible too. Having an elite player and proven winner controlling a pitching staff and being involved in every single play of a game is just too valuable.
So here's the formula for success: build up a good farm system that produces some top-end talent, have enough money to sign them to long contracts, have even more money to sign other free agents to fill holes, find some low risk role players that get on ridiculous hot streaks in October, and draft a once in a generation player at a position that is crucial to team success. Easy, right?
So during this weekend's party by the Bay, where the players on the field will be battling to keep their early season momentum going against a tough Cardinals team, know that Giants fans are cheering for much more than what's happening on the diamond. They're cheering because they're happy and they're happy because they are experiencing something elusive in the life of a sports fan: everything has gone according to plan and the future is incredibly bright.