As shown above, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reported on Twitter about an hour ago that the rumored signing of veteran catcher John Buck by the Mariners has happened. Although no release by Seattle has confirmed the move we'll likely to receive official confirmation shortly. As their roster is currently full, a corresponding 40-man move will accompany the official adding of Buck, which is why there is no word from the M's yet.
Buck, who was a 7th round pick out of high school back in 1998 by the Astros, is a veteran of 10 seasons in MLB, playing for Kansas City, Toronto, the Marlins, Mets and Pirates and accumulating a career slash line of .234/.301/.400 in over a thousand big league games. He was an All-Star in 2010 in his lone season for the Blue Jays, a year in which the right-handed hitter collected a career best 25 doubles, 20 home runs and 66 RBI while posting an OPS of .802. He's been traded four times in his career, including being part of the high profile Carlos Beltran to Houston trade back in 2004 and as a piece of the massive Toronto-Miami trade (fire sale?) in November of 2012.
Buck's deal is for a reported $1 million, seemingly indicating that he is being brought in to back up Mike Zunino, who the Mariners seem confident in handing the reigns as the club's No. 1 catcher to open 2014. Zunino hit just .214/.290/.329 in 52 games last year after being called up to Seattle following spending less than a calendar year in the minor leagues, but the club loves his leadership and believe that the bat will improve this year. Zunino's season was interrupted by a broken bone in his left hand right when he appeared to be getting comfortable at the plate last year, hitting .324/.442/.471 in the 11 games before the injury. He underwent surgery and missed just under six weeks but hit just .176 over his final 23 games after his return.
Buck had a similarly difficult season at the plate in 2013, hitting just .219/.285/.362 in 110 games with the Mets and Pirates. Buck has been a free swinger for much of his career as he owns a career 23.9% strikeout rate, but he's actually posted a very strong walk rate of 9.7% since the start of 2011. Buck is a catcher with a big body, standing 6-foot-3 and listed at 245 pounds last year. He's a low ball hitter that can hit offspeed pitches well but he struggles with velocity, especially up. His strength means has good power all over the field and that shows in his stats as he's pulled just 69 of his 133 career home runs to the left of center field. The right-handed hitter doesn't have much of a platoon split, but that really just means that he isn't a very big weapon against left-handed pitching.
After breaking into the big league with Kansas City as a guy with a defense-first reputation, he's morphed into a solid throwing catcher that has had his issues with blocking balls and framing pitches over the past several years. Pair those issues with his bigger-than-people-thought-he-deserved free agent contract in 2011 and you start to get the idea of why so many people seem down on Buck. The truth of the matter is that John Buck represented one of the best available veteran catching options on the market this year, and the Mariners got him for a contract that is impossible to be bad for them.
Buck's veteran presence will be an asset in bringing Zunino along in his development and his bat and experience are a great fit for Seattle even though he has almost no chance to replicate his success from a few seasons ago. He represents an upgrade to the options Seattle has and could step in as a starter should Zunino falter.
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