In allowing A.J. Pierzynski to go to the Red Sox on the one-year, $8.25 million dollar salary, and by allowing Jarrod Saltalamacchia go to the Marlins on a three-year, $21 million dollar salary, the Twins made their thoughts on Josmil Pinto quite clear: he is the starting catcher for 2014. It's not a bad decision to make, all things considered. Pierzynski wasn't coming to Minnesota on a one-year deal and I don't think anybody expected the front office to out-bid Boston; Saltalamacchia is worth more than he signed for, but bringing him into the fold would have essentially nixed Pinto's future with the Twins before it even started.
The result, however, is a weak free agent class at catcher. As Minnesota scours the market for a catcher who is both A) willing to play backup to a 25-year old rookie, and B) a solid player, the number of players meeting that criteria will fall somewhere between "few" and "none". So it's hard to hate on the club too much when we hear that they've been in touch with the agent for John Buck.
Buck, 33, has caught fewer than 104 games just once since 2005. If he's looking to continue that trend, Minnesota might not be the ideal destination. But he's also at a point in his career where he probably needs to keep his options open.
On the plus side, Buck has some power. He slugged .487 combined in 2009 and 2010, including a 20-homer year in his '10 campaign. He started off 2013 strong as well, belting ten homers in his first 25 games.
And that's, more or less, apart from his experience, where the positives end. He hit just five homers the rest of the season, but even more concerning was the .205/.283/.283 triple slash he put up over the rest of the year as well. That's not much worse than his overall line from 2011 through 2013, which is a paltry .215/.301/.360.
It isn't fair to judge a catcher entirely on his offensive game, so what about Buck's defense? He caught 29% of base stealers in 2013, which is just above his career average and also his highest mark since 2006. Teams attempted just 55 stolen bases off of him this season, or about one every other game, which isn't too bad. Assuming that all pitchers are created equally in their delivery and time to the plate, Buck seems like he's fairly standard at the catch-and-throw aspect of the game.
The biggest issue for Buck is that he won't be an asset to the pitching staff. While we can't measure how a catcher "calls a game", we can measure how good he is at framing his pitcher for the umpire. According to Stat Corner, John Buck was the worst catcher in all of baseball at framing pitches in 2013, at -20.4 runs above average; he's among the league's worst catchers at getting a pitch just off the plate called a strike. While he's never been as bad as he was in 2013, he has a history of not doing a good job of framing a pitch.
Looking at the entire package, not only is Buck not a good fit for Minnesota but he's not really the type of player the team should be targeting in the first place. The team would be just as well off asking Chris Herrmann to pick up a bat, and they might be better off defensively with him behind the plate.
Searching for a decent backup catcher isn't an easy proposition, especially when most teams want to hang onto a catcher with any sort of talent which makes the trade market nigh on untouchable. Granted, Matt Wieters looks like an exception, but he's not worth what Minnesota would give up in prospects.
The goal should be easy: the catcher needs to be able to do something better than the guys already in-house. If the target can't do anything better than the current slate of players, then experience alone isn't a big enough reason to make it happen.
It's not an enviable position. But I hope the Twins have already moved on from John Buck.
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