Report: Mariners sign John Buck

 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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