By Murray Chass

September 23, 2010

Immersed in a fight with two other teams for the division title and with three teams for the wild-card spot, the San Francisco Giants just might wish they had forgotten about Buster Posey’s free agency six or seven years hence and made this season their priority.

Instead of calling up the talented Posey earlier than they did, the Giants left the catcher in the minors because they were playing the game clubs love to play to manipulate players’ major league service time and delay their eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency.Buster Posey4 225

From the day he arrived in San Francisco (May 29), Posey has been an offensive force and an all-round valuable member of the team and surely could have helped the Giants win another game or three or four, the games he couldn’t help them win because he was in the minors.

In Posey’s case, salary arbitration was not a factor because the 33 days he spent in the majors at the end of last season pretty much assured him of being a Super Two, meaning he would be among the top 17 percent of service time for players between two and three years of service.

Free agency, however, was another matter. By keeping Posey in the minors, the Giants insured that they would control him through the 2016 season, having him for seven years, instead of having him be eligible for free agency after 2015, the requisite six seasons.

When I wrote about this issue earlier this season, citing Posey as the central example of the clubs’ legal but dubious practice, Giants’ fans responded in nearly one voice. They supported the Giants because what they did insured that Posey would be with the team an extra year, and they preferred that year to a handful of games this season.

My point, which remains my point, is that if and when a team has a chance to win, that is, get to the post-season, it should do what it can to get there. Not that I have surveyed most baseball people, the types who work in front offices and are responsible for building teams, but based on conversations I have had, I believe that most subscribe to the practice that when the playoffs might be in sight, don’t blink.

Are the Giants and their fans really going to look to 2016 when 2010 is within their grasp? Are they going to wait to see what Posey does in 2016 when they could have seen what he might have done for them in May 2010?

Just the other day Posey hit a home run that beat the Cubs, 1-0. In that victory, which kept the Giants in first place in the National League West by half a game, Posey also threw out a runner trying to steal second and guided Matt Cain and three relievers through the shutout.

The victory also gave the Giants an 85-66 season record. Before Posey, the Giants had a 25-22 record. That means they have a 60-44 record with Posey. Who knows what that record might have been had the Giants promoted Posey, say, May 1?

Maybe Posey would have struggled in those four extra weeks, and maybe he would have produced at a similar rate to what he has done in 98 games since May 29 (through Tuesday): .324, 15 home runs, 62 runs batted in.

I would bet on Posey, and with the Giants locked in races with the Padres, the Rockies and the Braves, I would hope the Giants’ fans would see the wisdom of having summoned Posey sooner. If they don’t, they can’t care how their team fares in the two races.

Brian Sabean 225Brian Sabean, the Giants’ general manager, certainly cares about his team’s fate in the races, but he didn’t care enough to fortify the team with Posey prior to May 29. Maybe he figured then that it wouldn’t matter now, that his team wasn’t good enough to contend for a playoff spot. But surprise, here it is.

I haven’t spoken with Sabean since the last column (posted July 21), but at that time he denied any manipulative motives for leaving Posey in the minors.

“Eligibility has nothing to do with it; that’s a moot point,” he said. “The biggest factor was he hadn’t played much professional baseball. He was learning the catching position. We wanted to make sure he was comfortable at the plate.”

The problem with that explanation was it was similar to the explanations of executives with other clubs that kept good young players in the minors longer than was probably necessary, players such as Mike Stanton of Florida, Stephen Strasburg of Washington, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez of Pittsburgh, Jake Arrieta of Baltimore and Carlos Santana of Cleveland.

They all became “comfortable” around the same time, late May and early June, which was just late enough to insure that the players wouldn’t qualify as Super Twos for salary arbitration.

By not using these good young players when they could have, I suggested, teams were undermining the integrity of baseball by not doing everything they could to win.

They scoffed at that accusation, of course, but the Posey case is Exhibit A. We can’t have a do-over to prove the point, but if the Giants fail to reach the playoffs after coming this close, they will look pretty weak, not to mention guilty, and maybe even to their fans.

But then they can initiate the cry throughout the Bay area and the Peninsula, “Wait ‘til 2016.”

Comments? Please send email to