John Buck And The Future, Today!

Jeff Sullivan · January 14, 2014 at 4:47 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Today, the Mariners did something that’s virtually impossible to complain about. And by that, I don’t mean the Mariners did nothing at all, because they actually went out and got a guy. John Buck is that guy, and he’s reportedly been given a year and a million. You might’ve figured, when the Mariners picked up Humberto Quintero, that was the veteran who’d slot in as Mike Zunino’s backup, but instead that’ll be Buck, at least out of the gate. John Buck seems to be better than Humberto Quintero. John Buck seems to be better than Jesus Sucre, even though I think Sucre is kind of neat. Quintero and Sucre, now, are insurance, behind the top tandem, which is entirely unobjectionable.

On its own, this move is hardly worth any words. Buck has good power and enough negatives to make him a guy the Mariners could add for a year and a million. In no way is he going to be a surprise, and he’s close to the end of his big-league career. Buck would’ve been drawn to the Mariners in part because they were offering a big-league contract, and in part because Zunino could struggle which would leave Buck with plenty of potential playing time. The Mariners would’ve found Buck appealing because he can start if that’s what they end up needing. The evidence we have suggests that Buck is a below-average pitch-framer, and last year he was among the worst. The year before that, he was fine. Buck’s framing isn’t going to win or lose this division.

I think what’s more interesting here than Buck himself is how Buck could represent a potential Mike Zunino career path. Coincidentally, Zunino is projected by Steamer for an 85 wRC+, which matches Buck’s career total on the nose. Zunino’s still very young, and he’s still considered a top prospect, but when it comes to plotting where he goes from here, the Buck route’s a realistic one. I can’t tell if that’s pessimistic or not.

I’ve long considered Zunino’s upside to be something like Jason Varitek. That’s upside, not ceiling, because Zunino’s ceiling would be a superstar and national icon. The downside would be something more like J.P. Arencibia. Buck is kind of in the middle of those two, and he was basically a regular for an entire decade. He did some things well, and he did some things less well, and he made an All-Star Game once.

In the early going, Zunino has demonstrated that he’ll probably strike out a lot. Not because he’s hopelessly over-aggressive, like Miguel Olivo, but because there are just holes in his swing. In the majors and in Triple-A, he made contact about seven times for every ten swings. To go with the strikeouts, he’ll draw some walks, but Zunino probably won’t ever be confused for A.J. Ellis. It’s the power that should help him keep playing. Zunino doesn’t have Giancarlo Stanton’s raw strength, but there are dingers in his bat, some of them quite long, and you notice Buck has a career .167 ISO. That seems like something Zunino could achieve.

Behind the plate, Buck’s been better at blocking balls than throwing them, but his arm’s been just fine. I think the advantage Zunino might have on Buck is that he seems like a better receiver, but that still has to be proven, and then the significance of that also has to be proven. They say Zunino is pitcher-friendly, and that he has captain-like tendencies, yet Buck’s also been thought of before as a leader and we don’t know how much this stuff matters. The catching position is kind of selective for leadership types. Not in every case, but it’s among the assumed responsibilities.

Zunino turns just 23 in March, and a year ago Baseball America ranked him baseball’s 17th-best prospect. Buck was once ranked baseball’s 43rd-best prospect, and the next year he slotted in at 67th. Zunino’s definitely thought of more highly, but Buck was a significant prospect in his own right, and over the several years there have been changes in prospect evaluation. We don’t know how prospect Buck would be thought of today. Over about 4,000 big-league plate appearances, he’s hit .234/.301/.400.

One’s instinct is to think that’s too low, for Zunino. The way Zunino’s been hyped, we’re all looking for something more than a .700 OPS. But then, every catcher who hasn’t been great could’ve been great, and there are similarities between Zunino and Buck’s player profiles. Zunino might be better defensively, and that could be the great separator, but at the end of the day similar careers would be reasonable. Maybe — maybe — Buck isn’t a 50th-percentile projection, but I doubt he’s lower than 40th. Buck’s been all right, and it’s ever so hard to be more than that.

Tuesday afternoon, the Mariners signed an aging John Buck. They might well be pairing him with a younger John Buck. You, like me, would prefer that Zunino turn out to be more than that. But, we’d prefer lots of things.


21 Responses to “John Buck And The Future, Today!”

  1. Slats on January 14th, 2014 4:52 pm

    The only thing to complain about is Buck being the worst framer last season according to stat corner.

  2. ck on January 14th, 2014 5:03 pm

    Zunino is a very good prospect. Who will coach Zunino in spring training this year? Dan Wilson was mentioned as a part time minor league mentor…I don’t know if Roger Hansen will appear this Spring in Peoria…Zunino (and all catchers)would benefit from good coaching.

  3. F-Rod on January 14th, 2014 6:10 pm

    Team is not good enough yet. But I like the bench. The price is right on the combo of Bloomquist,Gutierrez, and Buck.

  4. MrZDevotee on January 14th, 2014 6:15 pm

    I don’t mind this move at all… He’s still capable enough to also be a “double-switch” guy in the lineup, to give Skip McClendon some roster flexibility in late innings too.

    A month ago I probably wouldn’t have been that keen on signing him, but given the rest of the catching possibilities out there currently, this is a no-brainer for a million bucks.

    And as Morosi wrote, if Zunino for some reason struggles or needs to spend time in AAA, we can make do with Buck and Quintero without forcing Zunino to learn on the fly during a slump/struggles.

  5. djw on January 14th, 2014 6:19 pm

    Good signing, depressing post.

  6. PackBob on January 14th, 2014 6:31 pm

    Compared to what the Mariners have had at catcher for quite a while now, Zunino/Buck feels like a huge upgrade, regardless of whether Zunino takes off or not. Buck’s experience should be useful and, nothing against Quintero or Sucre, add a level of comfort.

    These are the kind of little moves that the Mariners should be making.

  7. MJ Slider on January 14th, 2014 6:34 pm

    I like the signing, but I can’t help but wonder if this is a good deal. On the surface all I see is the M’s getting One Buck for One Million Bucks.

  8. Westside guy on January 14th, 2014 6:43 pm

    I’m still amazed how people lost their rage about Zunino not being given time to develop his bat in the minors. I know we are all tired of seeing sucky defensive catchers, but with his ceiling – don’t we want what is best for him long term?

  9. bigred on January 14th, 2014 8:46 pm

    Should I worry that this move could lead to a trade of Zunino for David Price and our catching tandem could be Buck/Sucre?

  10. TumwaterMike on January 14th, 2014 11:30 pm

    Should I worry that this move could lead to a trade of Zunino for David Price and our catching tandem could be Buck/Sucre?

    I think if that was the case they would have signed Buck for more than 1 year.

  11. maqman on January 15th, 2014 2:37 am

    So the Buck stops here.

  12. SeattleSlew on January 15th, 2014 6:54 am

    “I’m still amazed how people lost their rage about Zunino not being given time to develop his bat in the minors. I know we are all tired of seeing sucky defensive catchers, but with his ceiling – don’t we want what is best for him long term?”

    I agree. This could come back to hurt them in the future when they have a 26 yr old catcher who still hasn’t developed his hitting skills.

  13. Eastside Suds on January 15th, 2014 7:57 am

    Good signing of John Buck. Not the best the M’s could acquire, but given what was left, at least they didn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. At least Zunino and Buck are better than any tandem they had last year, so the catcher position is an upgrade. 2nd base is an upgrade and the SP’s will be better. Outfield is slightly better, not because of who the M’s have brought in, but not having Raul/Morse out there running after flying things has to be an upgrade. Just seems like it anyways.

  14. miscreant on January 15th, 2014 5:53 pm

    I wouldn’t mind Zunino beginning the season in AAA. He’s only had 400 minor league PAs. Adding Buck allows this to happen.

    If (when?) Zunino tears up AAA, promote him.

  15. tmac9311 on January 15th, 2014 11:16 pm

    Holy cow this is the move I’ve wanted the M’s to make all offseason, and it actually happened. Now we can go into spring training and the beginning of the year with no pressure on zunino. if he has to go back to the minors no big deal whatsoever. Buck/Sacre is a totally passable catcher position for the majors. If Zunino takes that big step up we have a Zunino/Buck legit offensive combo at catcher, the position i couldn’t tell you the last time our team has scared anyone at. Bravo M’s, guess we learned it’s important to have a bench of players that are major league players

  16. Evan on January 16th, 2014 9:25 am

    For the record, it’s totally possible to complain about the team doing nothing at all. Think of the trade deadline. Or draft signing day.

  17. groundzero55 on January 16th, 2014 3:20 pm

    Seeing that Carlos Peguero was designated for assignment to get Buck on the roster.

  18. MissouriMariner on January 16th, 2014 6:32 pm

    At least we no longer have to deal with the Peguero windmill……

  19. Shoeless Jose on January 17th, 2014 3:10 am

    “the Peguero windmill” — as in, that imaginary thing the front office insisted on tilting at?

  20. stevemotivateir on January 17th, 2014 6:35 am

    I’m still amazed how people lost their rage about Zunino not being given time to develop his bat in the minors. I know we are all tired of seeing sucky defensive catchers, but with his ceiling – don’t we want what is best for him long term?

    I’ve had the same thoughts, Westy. I’m not sure how the consensus of a premature call-up evolved into a consensus of he’s-ready-start-him-now, considering how he struggled at the plate.

    He struggled holding runners as well, albeit small sample size.

  21. Eastside Suds on January 17th, 2014 2:21 pm

    Steve…..with all due respect, catchers don’t hold runners. Pitchers do. Felix, Beavan, Wilhelmson, and others are HORRIBLE at holding runners. They usually give the catcher almost no chance. It all starts on the mound. Zunino and Buck have decent enough arms that they should have a fifty-fifty chance to throw out runners if given a fair shake. Standard start to pop for pitchers in the stretch must be in the 1.3 second area or faster to give the catcher any chance. Next time you are home watching the M’s, grab a stopwatch and time them. You will be surprised.

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