While it’s yet to be officially announced by the club, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports (via Twitter) that John Buck has agreed to sign a one-year contract worth $1 million with the Seattle Mariners. Jon Morosi of FOX Sports indicated that the two sides were nearing an agreement on Monday night (via Twitter). The move will likely be made official once Buck passes a physical and the club makes a corresponding 40-man roster move.

The veteran catcher is expected to back up Mike Zunino as the top prospect enters his first full major league season. Buck is coming off of a three-year deal worth $18 million that he signed with the Miami Marlins after a career year in 2010. The 33-year old spent the bulk of 2013 with the New York Mets, but was acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates after the non-waiver trade deadline in August of last year. Buck has been very dependable throughout his career, appearing in 100 games or more in eight of the last nine seasons.

The former All-Star brings some pop to Seattle’s bench and the bottom of the lineup on the days he starts. In ten major league seasons he’s hit at least ten home runs in all but two campaigns, and hit a career high of 20 dingers in 2010. Depending on how Zunino performs and how long of a leash he’s given should he struggle for a long period of time, it’s unlikely Buck gets close to the 100 game plateau in 2014, although it’s not an impossible scenario.

While the metrics confirm that Buck has been a very competent defender over the course of his career, there has been some concern over his ability to frame pitches. He does carry a reputation of handling a pitching staff very well however, so his pitch framing shouldn’t be of much concern should he do everything else reasonably well. Depending on how many young guns crack the starting rotation, having a guy like Buck in the picture could be a huge plus. The veteran managed 1.6 fWAR  and 0.0 bWAR in 2013 for a typical year in Buck’s books; 15 home runs, an 83 wRC+, and an 8.8 Def. He even matched his career high of two stolen bases.

Steamer projects the 33-year old to be worth 0.4 fWAR in 2014 despite playing in only 24 games, and Oliver has him at 2.2 fWAR while playing in 143 games. Considering backup duty is what he’s signed on to do, and the fact he’s a catcher, the 143 game projection is miles from what the truth will be; as is the 24 game projection as well. If we say Buck is likely due one or two appearances a week behind the dish, an estimate of around 60 games played seems reasonable enough. For those keeping score at home, that’d give Buck a 0.92 fWAR based on Oliver’s estimate. Getting a win above replacement out of a back up catcher is a great plus, and for a million bucks, the Mariners probably couldn’t have done any better.

Considering Zunino’s youth, acquiring a veteran backstop seemed like a wise decision earlier in the offseason. Aside from the wealth of experience he brings and superior fielding ability, perhaps the most underrated attribute Buck provides being able to consistently hit right-handed pitching; an area of weakness for Zunino. Should the youngster run into difficulties, there’s some assurance with Buck waiting in the wings.

Buck represents a clear upgrade over the other catchers currently on the Mariners’ depth chart. Jesus Sucre is the only other catcher currently on the 40-man roster, but has very minimal big league experience. Humberto Quintero was re-signed to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training last week and could provide an insurance option in Triple-A to start the year. The M’s have acquired a decent stash of catching depth at this point in the offseason.

The pieces to the 2014 puzzle are starting to come together, but it’s not too late for a big piece to enter the equation.

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Tyler Carmont

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  1. Considering both Walker & Paxton will be on limited pitch counts in 2014, Bedard would be a great move as a spot starter to fillin, so Walker & Paxton can contribute in August & September if necessary

  2. In Z’s defense, he has drafted high-floor, mostly college players because the system was empty when he took over and we needed players at the major-league level. Now that we have options, I hope we draft more high school players from here on out.

    If you look at the Cardinal’s drafts over the same five-year period, with three #19 picks they have outdone us. Ouch!

  3. I don’t care if he was a #1 ace. He’s pitched 15 innings since 2011 and will be 33. He should be considered #5/depth until he proves otherwise. And it looks like the M’s are treating him that way if they sign him to a minor league contract.

  4. Drafting players inside the top 5 picks in the draft is not a forte of this front office. Potentially three busts. The key word being potentially. 2 are 90% there and the third might be on his way after the front office decided to rush him to the big leagues before he was even remotely ready.

  5. As far as the weakness in some of the baseball choices…

    While the M’s have drafted well un Jack Z, they’ve been the dubious owners of two #2 picks, and a #3 pick in the last five drafts. Unfortunatley, we have a solid catching prospect, a struggling utility man, and a pitcher about to sit for a season, (whom also has a moderate ceiling), to show for our efforts. Things could have turned out much different- and odds are for the better- if certain draftees would have slipped a spot or we would have gone in a different direction with our selections. Nonetheless, the plan is working well enough. Here’s hoping Peterson turns out great and Hultzen makes it back to where he left off.

  6. Baker would be a solid 4 or 5. Before injury he was a decent 2 solid #3.

  7. The Mariners front office is good at financial matters, one of the best in the game. The team is positioned to compete financially, as the Cano contract demonstrates. GMZ’s plan to build a base of young, cheap talent and supplement those with players acquired by trade and free agency is not a bad plan. The weakness is in some of the baseball choices they have made. It could have been worse if they had signed Hamilton or Fielder or traded half the farm for Upton. I think they would be better off with a president of business operations and another president of baseball operations. They are two very different specialties and few are equally professionally qualified at both. That’s a reality they need to address. Bringing in Tony LaRussa to run baseball operations would be a smart move.

  8. As long as Baker is for depth and not for the #3 or 4 slot, which still need filling.
    LaRussa has a law degree and is a pretty smart guy but I’m not sure he has the qualifications for the position as the M’s have it set up.

  9. Also if La Russa is interested in the M’s front office job and the M’s want to even give the appearance that they have a solid front office with Baseball Guys. They should hire him. The in house names I am hearing are business people not Baseball people. The M’s need more Baseball People!!

  10. M’s are being linked to SP S. Baker. Could be a solid low budget sign with good upside.

  11. I’m sure his wife could “borrow” Felix’s wife’s visa

  12. Apparently, she already got ahold of Felix’s Visa…..oh, not the card. Never mind.

  13. I wonder if his wife can get a Visa.

  14. I have problems with using framing as a stat if it’s the only stat one is going to use. Especially when there are so many other variables in catching, some of which the saber guys have not been able to quantify yet. Meaning we don’t really know the true value of framing yet. John Buck had an RPP last year of 2.0 which is better than Gomes, Ellis, Hanigan, Conger and a few other wiz kids. Would I base an argument that he’s better than them, no but he had a better RPP. He had a 1.6 WAR last year which equates to a solid role player with a value of about 6.9 Million for a free agent. Hey, 1 year, 1 million is a good deal, whether he can fool the umpire on every pitch or not.

  15. Well, actually Peguero’s problem was that he couldn’t hit FASTBALLS. He just hammered off speed stuff.

    But that might play better in Japan….

  16. I believe there has been some interest in Peguero in Japan, they tend to like thumpers like him and Wily Mo. There are also two new teams in Korea that are signing some “foreign” players. Peguero is also a good athlete despite his size and not a major liability in the outfield. If he could have improved his contract rate with off-speed offerings he could have stuck in The Show. However, given his wife’s purported problem, it pretty much forced the team to move him.

  17. I have a hard time with something “called” a statistic that is based on conjecture. How can it be called accurate, when it’s based on an assumption that a ball would have been called a strike, if another catcher was used? It relies on opinion, which is far from a qualification for a statistic.

    I’m not really expecting Buck to be more than he is, but really, how can you “statistically” calculate a run variance, when you have to factor in which umpires strikezones, and objectivity are in question?

    And, rjfrik, he may be a replacement level player, but compared to others that have been the back-up catcher over the last five years, that would be an improvement, would it not?

  18. Whoa there, cowboy. He was DFA’d, not cut. He’ll likely go unclaimed, unless some team is lusting for his power potential.

  19. Peguero cut! Talk about a “mercy killing!” I liked the Buck signing, but now I REALLY like it…

  20. Exactly Chris. Exactly. 1 million for one year. Okay. He’s a replacement level player, nothing more.

  21. Most of us shed the opinion of Bedard being an ace years ago. So long as he’s given the same kind of leash as any veteran depth piece, signing him is fine. His market can change in a hurry, but if I were the M’s, I’d have no issue throwing a minor league/ST invite his way now, and guaranteeing him money only if his market heats up. Sure the guy can still be productive and worth more than a million bucks, but if his market doesn’t think so then there’s no reason to change it.

  22. He’s a backup, not more than that. Buck will probably have an 80-85 wRC+ which is where he’s been the past three seasons. Ok defensively, but also was graded as the worst framer in baseball this year at 20 runs below average. Graded as ok in 2012, but awful in all other years. If you give full weight to framing numbers, he’s below replacement, if you give half weight, he’s maybe a touch above. Unless you totally disregard framing numbers, he’s never been very good.

    This is more like the Bloomquist signing in that there are ways that it looks bad, but it’s low impact and doesn’t really make a difference either way.

  23. Érik Bédard isn’t getting calls, I think, because he is, at best and at this stage of his career a very borderline 5th starter. The fact that Bédard himself says he is open to working out of the bullpen is an important factor here. One can assume he wouldn’t have any attitude problems from being “relegated” to the bullpen, if he himself sees this as an opportunity to prolong his MLB career.

    Sure, if Bedard is willing to come to the M’s on a minor league invite, then great. However, I think the guy has more value than that. He never was an innings eater and his skillset should work very well as a change-of-pace lefty out of the pen, and, very importantly, as insurance as a lefty starter should Paxton falter.

    I don’t think most ML team have thought of Bedard as a solid member of their bullpen, because this isn’t a role he’s ever taken on (except for that Opening Day win against the “already coronated pennant winning” Texas Rangers last season.

    This would be a think-outside-the-box move by the M’s, a team that knows Érik as well as any.

    So what has Bédard done to warrant a contract? He’s shown one of the best curveballs in the game when healthy. He’s shown a lifetime 109 ERA+, 1.353 whip. In 2013, with the worst team in baseball, he put up journeyman starter numbers, including 151 innings and an 88 ERA+. He would likely be a veteran lefty in the pen, a valuable commodity. Sorry, but to say his ML performance warrants “nothing” is flat out wrong. Low risk, high upside at $750k to $1M, if he makes the team out of Spring Training.

  24. I agree, Bedard in the pen would be a good depth move.

  25. What has Bedard done to warrant a contract? Nothing. I can agree a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, but that is it. There is a reason no one is calling him.

  26. I hadn’t thought about Bedard, but he seems like a perfect sign.
    The one thing we learned last year is the importance of depth for the rotation. If you’re forced into a Maurer wish and prayer, things can go very wrong.
    So it’s been obvious from the start that we need one more realistic option to back up the Walker/Paxton/Erasmo combo. If it’s Tanaka, perfect. If not, I’d make a strong case for Capuano or Maholm (if healthy) over the other Three Domestics. Some have even argued for two of Jimenez, Garza and Santana. But I dislike that idea a lot because at the money they’ll cost, you’re forced to put them in the rotation, no matter how well our young guys may be throwing.

    So Bedard is a great solution. He did throw 150 innings last year, and even though he’ll drive you crazy with walks and his slow pace on the mound, he’s the perfect idea for the ‘seventh starter’. Bring someone else in to fight for a rotation spot…put Bedard in the bullpen…and he’s the instantly-available insurance policy.

  27. Buck was the starter last year for the Mets before being traded. It’s not as though he’s years removed from being a big league contributor. I’m kinda surprised $1 million is all it took given his ability to at least be a platoon catcher at this point.

  28. That is what I thought when the Mariners signed Kelly Shoppach last winter. But I believe Buck is better, and that if Zunino slumps badly or gets injured, the M’s not only have Buck to use temporarily as a regular, but now have Quintero or Sucre to back up Buck. I like the Buck signing for the depth it seems to add to the M’s catching situation. And the price is certainly right: low risk, potential high reward.

  29. Agreed. He could start, if necessary, and at least hold down the position. He’s a sound catcher.

  30. Aardsma is available.
    It was a long road back to the big leagues after several surgeries for Aardsma, 32, but he made it to the Mets last year and showed he can still strike batters out (36 in 39 2/3 innings in 2013). He’ll have to be healthy and more refined to get close to where he was when he saved 69 games as the Mariners’ closer from 2009-10, but there’s no reason to think he can’t be a useful bullpen arm at a great price. Source: Doug Miller at MLB.com He also mentions Yoon who worked out of the bullpen last season in Korea.

    Suk-min Yoon, RHP: Most of the hype coming from Asia this winter has been about Tanaka, and rightly so, but this 27-year-old Korean right-hander wants to debut in MLB in 2014, too, and there’s been some interest from the Red Sox and Twins of late, according to reports. Yoon projects as a starter or reliever, and he is certainly looking for a Major League deal, so he figures to be more expensive than most of the names on this list. But he’ll be much more affordable than Tanaka, Garza and the rest of the high-profile free-agent starters. Whether Yoon will be that good remains to be seen.

    Millers last suggestion was not a bullpen piece but could be.

    James McDonald, RHP: For much of 2012, McDonald looked like he might be a future fixture in the Pirates’ rotation, but he struggled after the All-Star break. Still, the right-handed starter, who turned 29 in October, can reach 94 mph with his fastball and gave up only 147 hits in 171 innings, while striking out 151 that year. McDonald needs to iron out command issues, something he couldn’t do while walking 25 batters in 29 2/3 innings with Pittsburgh in 2013. A change of scenery and a new pitching coach might help.

  31. I think he’s more than that. He’s a solid starting catcher, and a VERY good backup.

    Since Zunino could potentially use some more time in the minors, this is a great deal.

    I think Buck is a good bet to end up being the under-the-radar signing that pays off big for the M’s this year. Part of this is due to the M’s specific situation at the position, but also because he has played at a pretty high level relatively recently. He’s a starting caliber catcher, and was a very good starting catcher just a few years ago. If he catches 75-100 games for the M’s, they will still be in good shape.

    This is a great signing. Not earth shattering or super high-impact, but really smart nonetheless.

  32. I don’t think those guys would even cost that much.

    Balfour had a 2yr/15mil deal get nuked because of concerns about his medicals (warranted or not). I doubt he ends up signing for more than that. Perez seems to have missed the early market for relievers. With guys like Jesse Crain and John Axford signing for less than $5 mil, Perez could end up being a bargain. And Bedard is the type of guy who will likely sign a non-guaranteed contract. Its conceivable that the M’s could add all three for less than $10 mil, and without going beyond two years on any of them. That’s a bargain.

    It seems like there has been a market correction on relievers, and they are now a relatively good deal in free agency. The M’s would be wise to add some talent (and potential trade chips) for little cash.

  33. That’s a good way of putting it. Hypothetically some of the new coaching staff would be able to help with that should he return.

  34. Buck isn’t perfect, but he’s a back-up, not a starter. You expects flaws in his game. Hense, being a back-up.

  35. I wouldn’t mind having Perez come back, but IMO, he puts his “macho” side ahead of his baseball sense. When you’re ahead 0-2 and you try to throw a fastball by a good hitter, that’s just no smart. He’s not good enough to do that, but he thinks he can, in his mind.

  36. I think Buck is a smart, reasonable signing.

  37. In a nutshell, nothing significant (aside from a potential Kershaw extension) is going to happen until Tanaka signs, and he still has nine days to do so. I’d love to see more than one veteran pitcher added to the bullpen. There’s nothing wrong with penciling Farquhar in as the closer, and there’s also nothing wrong with bringing in insurance. If Bedard’s healthy, I have no problem with him coming in on a low salary deal with a few incentives.

    Oliver Perez is still yet to sign, and performed well in the bullpen last year. Maybe it’s sticking with the familiarity card, but Perez and Bedard could probably both be brought on board for around $5 million annually. Right now Rodney is still going to cost around $7-8 million. Personally I like the idea of Perez/Bedard if the club is confident in Farquhar/Wilhelmsen being effective enough. But with all that said, the bullpen’s not so set that three relievers could enter the picture. Balfour, Perez, and Bedard and you’ve got a significantly better bullpen than you do at the moment. Cost? probably $10-12 million. Worthwhile investment? Very difficult to say. I don’t have a problem with teams investing in multiple bullpen pieces as opposed to spending that $10 million on one arm. When in doubt, spread the risk.

  38. Tyler,
    I agree with the “right now” part. No reason for the M’s to wait to see what happens with Balfour or Rodney. I would like to see the M’s get BOTH Balfour and Bedard. That said, I DO think that the M’s would wait for the Tanaka sweepstakes and any bigger money moves for another outfielder/starter before they extended $5M to $7M per year to Balfour (or Rodney, who wants much more). I think the M’s priorities for bigger ticket signings are Starter, Outfielder, Closer in that order. Not at all sure they will spend significant $$ on all three, unfortunately. A trade for an outfielder is a stronger possibility, I think. They should get Bedard, now…

  39. I agree he’d be a good pickup for the pen, but it doesn’t sound like at this point in time he’d require a guaranteed salary. There hasn’t been any talk about whether or not he’s at 100% right now, so perhaps that could be a factor. He’ll get picked up by someone, but it may not be until February once bigger name options like Balfour and Rodney have found homes. He’d still be a decent under the radar pickup right now though.

  40. My thoughts, exactly, Garry. $750k to $1M. Possible LH insurance starter. JackZ and the M’s, after BillB, invested a great deal in rehabbing him (in itself a beat-the-odds medical story). Erik always looked exceptionally good for the M’s when healthy. One of the best curves in the game.

    I’m just not seeing any compelling reason NOT to extend Bedard an offer.

  41. Word on street is that Bedard isn’t getting ‘any’ calls, and that was coming from Bedards mouth. He’d make a great Long Relief LHP in the pen! I’m sure he’d come on a relatively cheap $1m deal.

  42. Erik Bedard

    He said he’s open to throwing out of the bullpen for a team. Last season, on opening day with the Astros, Bedard came in halfway through the game and the Astros beat the Rangers. He’s never been much for going deep into games anyway.

    Jack should sign the 35 year old lefty with the wicked curve for the pen. Give him $750k plus incentives (a bit over what Furbush will make). Make the deal contingent on him making the team out of Spring Training (ala Jason Bay).

    It would be good karma for the M’s to get more value out of Sir Erikkkkkkkkkk (after we land Tanaka and Kemp!)

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