It will seem like a myth now, but there was a time not too long ago when John Buck was considered one of the best catchers in the bigs.
I don’t just mean his nine-HR tear for the New York Mets in 2013, either. While the feat of strength he showed was certainly impressive (if not entirely unexpected), it pales in comparison to the time when the veteran actually found sustain success enough to be recognized for it by the league at the Midsummer Classic.
Yes, Buck was an All-Star catcher once, and only once — with the Toronto Blue Jays back in 2010, when he was a one-year stopgap to J.P. Arencibia.
And while the 33-year-old has been far from that 2.4 fWAR career year since, could a reunion tour north of the border be the shot in the arm he needs to relive those younger days? With the Blue Jays needing an option at catcher perhaps only slightly less direly than a second baseman, it certainly is something to consider, even if it does not seem like a particularly enticing option.
First, there’s the matter of how he’d fit in. If his acquisition by the Pittsburgh Pirates for the playoff run wasn’t obvious enough, Buck has reached that ‘veteran backup’ stage of his career, where the vocabulary to describe his contribution to a given team ranges from things like ‘stability’ and ‘presence’.
Except on the Blue Jays, he’d probably end up being much more than that. With Josh Thole clearly being good for not much more than catching R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball, the biggest problem that the team is facing at backstop is that there simply isn’t anyone to push Arencibia for his job.
Buck will do that. Not only doe he provide plus defense behind the plate, there’s a fair amount of pop in his bat even though he’s hit no higher than .227 in each of the last three seasons. And plus, he’d be a veteran guy on a veteran team with a relatively limited window to compete, etc …
There are really only so many words to say that he’s old and should be relatively affordable, I suppose.
Still, the defense makes a difference, not that Blue Jays fans need to be reminded of that. Despite being a JPA-ish batter with power who hits for a low average and doesn’t really get on base (sub-.300 OBP in each of the last two seasons), the fact is that his rather excellent defensive numbers (8.8 fielding runs above average in 110 games in 2013, 9.5 and 7.9 in 2012 and 2011 respectively) has made him a 4.0 fWAR player over the last three seasons.
The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have gotten 1.0 fWAR from Arencibia over that same span, and he was a -0.6 fWAR player this season despite hitting 21 homers. Buck? He’s never put together a below-replacement season.
And while he parlayed that All-Star season to a somewhat ridiculous three-year, $18 million contract with the Miami Marlins ahead of the 2011, that same situation won’t happen when he hits free agency this time around. Entering his age 33-season with his ceiling reached, Buck might even be available for the type of one-year deal that the Blue Jays once signed him for … though it won’t be at $2 million.
At the best least, he’d go into the organization as a platoon-mate (JPA has .207/.225 RHP/LHP splits over career, while Buck is at .229/.175 from 2010-2013). Even if he doesn’t pan out, the team would have at least tried, and he’d still more than likely be a significant defensive upgrade.
At best? Well, you’d just have to look back at 2010.