Why Did The Mariners Cut John Buck?

It’s not like I care, necessarily, about John Buck, or think he’s all that good at baseball.  I’d mostly just like to know:  what’s the point?

Jesus Sucre was just called up to replace John Buck as this team’s backup catcher.  That’s gotta be tough:  you’re replacing a respected veteran and leader.  I’m not saying Sucre is a scumbag or anything, but he’s also not all that remarkably better than Buck either.

I could understand it if the Mariners were going to replace Buck with a really good backup catcher, except those things don’t really exist.  You know what you call a really good backup catcher?  A “starting catcher”.  I don’t think this team has any plans on demoting Mike Zunino anytime soon.  He’s not tearing the A.L. a new asshole or anything, but he’s shown that he belongs and that he’s capable of handling his growing pains at the Major League level.  One day, Mike Zunino will be an All Star.  For now, he’s just a really good, really young defensive catcher with some pop in his bat.  Just enough pop to keep him in the Bigs.  He’s not actively hurting this team through poor defense, so there isn’t much of a point in demoting him or drastically reducing his playing time.  I can understand if you want to give Zunino some extra days off between now and season’s end; this is his first full year at this level – two years removed from college.  He’s going to get tired and see his production decline if we’re not careful.

In other words, instead of resting 1 game per week, Mike Zunino should be resting 2 games per week.

I suppose LMC and Jackie Z got together and figured this out.  Yes, very good, Zunino needs more rest.  Then, it dawned on them that John Buck was the man they had filling that void.  A man who put up a .226/.293/.286 slash line in 27 games, across 92 plate appearances.  Is that REALLY something you want to see more than you’d have to?  Is that something you want to see at all?

So, they made the decision to cut Buck.  I still find it somewhat baffling.  Yes, his numbers are down compared to the rest of his career, and yes, they’re down compared to last year.  But, they’re not THAT far below!  They’re nothing a few hot games wouldn’t turn around.  If you believe at all in regression when it comes to baseball, you’d have to think that the Buck we’d get over the second half of the season would be at least something of an improvement over the Buck we got in the first half.  Especially if you gave him more playing time as you opted to spell Zunino more often.  Granted, I’m of the opinion that you have to earn your at bats; you shouldn’t get guaranteed playing time just because you’re a vet and you “need” to play every day to get your numbers back up to par.  Nevertheless, it feels a bit premature to throw away a guy before he’s had a chance to see 100 plate appearances.

John Buck isn’t the greatest, but he’s exactly what you’d expect out of a guy you’re bringing in to be your BACKUP CATCHER.  Who expects greatness out of their backup catcher?  You know what I expect – what I’ve ALWAYS expected – out of my backup catcher?  Four outs at the plate and 24 hours where the starting catcher gets to sit on the bench and play grab-ass.  Anything – anything at ALL – at the plate is a huge bonus.  Maybe that’s foolish thinking, but then again, if the guy was so great to begin with, he’d be a starter somewhere.

Now, you may be asking:  what’s the big fucking deal, bitch?  As you said, he’s just a backup catcher; who cares if the Mariners cut him or not?

Well, truth be told, I don’t care a whole lot.  If the Mariners continue to win – and if they get better production out of Jesus Sucre – then the move is a success and the Mariners are geniuses.  But, is it safe to EXPECT that?  Sucre is a guy who’s hitting .274/.293/.360 down in Tacoma in 48 games.  He’s a guy who had an 8-game cup of coffee where he showed absolutely nothing at the plate except that he could hit a single the opposite way.  Yes, his defense is pretty good – and probably better than Buck’s – but is it remarkably better?  I doubt it.  In fact, as a whole, Sucre isn’t a huge improvement, so why bother?

If it’s to save a half a million dollars, that only happens if someone claims Buck off of waivers.  That probably won’t happen, and besides, it’s half a mil; who gives a shit about half a mil in Major League Baseball?

In the end, this strikes me as a net-negative.  There isn’t much of a tangible improvement in the field or at the plate, and there’s a considerable decline in leadership and chemistry.  Every team needs one of those good guys everyone rallies around.  The guys who aren’t the most talented, but who are championed like crazy when they do something positive.  Glue guys for younger players to look up to and joke around with.  Yes, this team has leadership in guys like Cano and Felix, but those guys are superstars.  They’re so far above and beyond all the younger guys on this team, regardless of how open and accommodating they are, it still has to be somewhat intimidating to be around them.  But, someone like Buck?  He’s right there on their level.  He’s been around the block, he’s seen his day in the sun, and now he’s on his way back down – as they’re starting their own ascents up the mountain.  Considering a lot of the younger guys on this team likely WON’T be All Stars, it’s nice to have someone like Buck, who was never all that great, but still managed to carve himself out a nice little career in the game.

Most people dismiss the idea of chemistry and veteran leadership out of hand.  Positive chemistry comes with winning, of course!  Well, the Mariners HAVE been winning, and I find it hard to believe that the loss of Buck will suddenly pull this team into a tailspin.  But, it still feels like an unusually cruel and heartless thing to do, without a whole lot of consideration for the feelings of the players on this team who are tasked with playing day-in and day-out.  If Buck and Sucre are essentially equal, but you get more of a clubhouse benefit from having Buck around, why wouldn’t you just keep Buck around?

Which is why I have to believe there’s another move on the horizon.  A trade perhaps.  Not for another catcher, that would be idiotic.  But, maybe a trade for multiple pieces that would need to be placed on the 40-man roster.  The Mariners – prior to the Buck DFA – were at 39 on the 40-man; now, they’re at 38.  Maybe there’s an impending deal that required the Mariners to open up another spot on the 40-man.  Of course, if that’s the case, why didn’t the Mariners just wait until the deal was completed?  They didn’t have to cut Buck last night – ON HIS BIRTHDAY – right after a hard-fought win at home.

Cutting him now instead of later isn’t going to make his release any easier on him.  Shit, they could have quietly cut him over the All Star Break and it would’ve been easier on the players still on this team.  Probably easier on him as well, as he wouldn’t have been surrounded by guys who – a few hours earlier – were his teammates.  No, this move smacks of the organization believing that John Buck is an active detriment to this team, and I just don’t see how that’s possible.

This move could have waited.  There’s no excuse to cut a guy on his birthday if you don’t have to.  In the end, it’s probably not a move that significantly improves on-field performance.  So, why do it?  That’s a question we’ll likely never have the answer to.

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