SAN FRANCISCO — For the last decade, Giants catcher Buster Posey has maintained his status as the team’s most recognizable position player.
The 2010 Rookie of the Year, 2012 National League MVP and six-time All-Star anchored three World Series championship rosters and led the franchise to unprecedented heights, making Posey one of the most accomplished players of his generation.
Posey often shared the spotlight with beloved homegrown aces including Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum, but for most of the 2010s, Posey was the face of the San Francisco Giants.
With an announcement he plans to sit out the 2020 season after adopting identical twin girls with his wife Kristen, Posey has temporarily taken himself off center stage. It’s possible the Giants’ star backstop will return to the role in 2021 for the final guaranteed year of his contract, but the organization is also racing toward the future and eager to find new players to energize the fanbase.
With Posey taking the year off, who will emerge as the face of the 2020 Giants? Here are the top candidates.
Brandon Crawford: The three-time Gold Glove Award winner is coming off the worst full season of his professional career, but he’s still adored by Giants fans who view him as one of the smoothest defenders of his era.
Crawford’s biggest hurdle toward becoming the face of the 2020 club is whether he’ll play enough. Under new manager Gabe Kapler, the Giants intend to platoon at most positions on the diamond and it’s possible Crawford will sit against most left-handed starters. The 33-year-old can help his cause with a hot streak at the start of the season and given how well he’s seeing the ball in summer workouts and intrasquad games, it’s not out of the question.
Evan Longoria: Longoria might be the lone true everyday player on the Giants’ 2020 roster, so it’s likely he’ll lead the team in traditional statistical categories such as home runs, runs scored and RBIs. After an up-and-down season defensively in 2018, Longoria was much better at third base last year and the three-time Gold Glove Award winner once again looks strong during summer workouts.
Many Giants fans soured on Longoria after a rough adjustment period to the National League following his trade from the Tampa Bay Rays, but he posted a 2.5 WAR and above-average OPS+ in 2019 and may benefit from Oracle Park’s center field fence coming in a few feet this year.
Brandon Belt: Bruce Bochy has said in the past that when Belt gets hot, he can carry a lineup. The challenge, of course, has been for Belt to put together a consistent 162-game season at the plate.
The Giants’ primary first baseman spent much of the last week in a walking boot due to a right heel issue, but he was out of the boot Tuesday and there’s renewed optimism he’ll be ready for the opening series against the Dodgers. Belt has always been among the most polarizing players with Giants fans, so even if he does enjoy a strong 60-game stretch, it’s hard to envision him being embraced as the face of the 2020 team.
Mike Yastrzemski: Giants fans fell in love with Yastrzemski last season as he matched Kevin Pillar for the team lead in home runs (21) and posted a 2.8 WAR and an .852 OPS in 107 games.
Yastrzemski has the best chance of any outfielder on the Giants roster to play on an everyday basis, but if he struggles at the outset of the summer, Kapler will look for ways to get Austin Slater, Jaylin Davis or other less experienced outfielders in the lineup.
Yastrzemski will turn 30 midway through the season, but the Giants’ front office believes there’s a lot of life in his bat and see him as a potential contributor for the next few years.
Mauricio Dubón: If Dubón excels at the plate, he has the chance to become an even bigger fan favorite and could run away with the “face of the team” designation this season.
After debuting late last summer following a trade from the Milwaukee Brewers, the pride of Honduras brought youthful energy to a Giants team that needed an infusion of joy on the field. The new coaching staff plans to test him in ways that will surely make him more endearing to fans this year as Dubón could play shortstop and center field in the same game on a fairly regular basis.
Alex Dickerson: Make no mistake, the lack of fans in the stands will hurt Dickerson’s chances of becoming the face of the team.
Fans fell in love with the power-hitting outfielder after he arrived on the scene last summer and led the Giants to a historically strong July. Colorful chants and dugouts celebrations became the norm when Dickerson was riding his hot stretch and he was a primary reason the Giants kept their fan base engaged for much of last summer.
A history of injury issues could complicate matters for Dickerson because every game he misses will matter more in an abbreviated season, but he said Tuesday he feels healthy and is excited about the team’s outlook in 2020.
Hunter Pence/Pablo Sandoval: It would take a minor miracle for either of these longtime fan favorites to emerge as the face of the 2020 team, but the season is so short that a month-long hot stretch could do wonders for either player.
Pence will likely see most of his opportunities as a designated hitter and part-time left fielder against left-handed pitchers while Sandoval is most likely to contribute as a DH or pinch-hitter against righties. It’s unlikely either player will have enough at-bats to outshine their peers, but don’t underestimate the nostalgia factor when it comes to factoring in how fans view their performances.
Johnny Cueto: It will be exceptionally hard for any pitcher to be the face of a team in 2020 given the fact they’ll likely be limited to 10 or 11 starts, but Cueto is as much of an entertainer as he is a baseball player and Giants fans can’t wait to see how he looks now that he’s healthy again.
Like Dickerson, Cueto will be hurt by the lack of fans in the stands because he thrives in the spotlight, but if he gets out to a hot start reminiscent of the way he opened his Giants career in 2016, #DiaDeCueto will be trending on social media again.
Joey Bart: If the Giants’ front office is true to its word, Bart won’t have a shot at becoming the face of the franchise as a rookie.
President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris insist that Bart has more developing to do before he’ll be ready for his MLB debut, but Posey’s decision makes it increasingly difficult to keep Bart out of the team’s 2020 plans.
Bart may have more work to do, but he’s also the most talented catcher in major league camp and easily the biggest power threat. Is it worth keeping him off the roster?
Gabe Kapler: It’s probably not ideal if a manager steals headlines from players, but because Kapler is replacing a legend in Bochy, every lineup decision, pitching change and substitution will be analyzed closely and picked apart by fans.
Given the ridiculously challenging first-half schedule and the Giants’ talent deficiencies, it’s not out of the question that things take a turn for the worst early in the year. A poor start to the season could thrust Kapler into the spotlight, but if the Giants exceed expectations and his unconventional plans for the pitching staff and lineup pan out, he will receive plenty of praise and earn a lot of trust with Giants fans heading into year two in 2021.
©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)