Back in the 2010 offseason, the Marlins leaped onto the hot stove scene by signing John Buck to a 3 year contract worth $18M at 12:01AM. The catcher had a great season in Toronto, hitting .281 with 20 home runs – the best production of his career. When he signed with the Marlins, he was looking forward to catching for a young, hard throwing Marlins’ staff while also looking to build on his offensive production.
Yet, there was never an emphasis placed on Buck’s offensive production by the Marlins brass. They were expecting his experience, defense, and play calling to be what was needed as the Marlins were reportedly focusing on pitching and defense. Coming out of the 2010 season, the Marlins were 80-82 and could have made the playoffs if their relief pitching held up (27 blown leads). They hoped Buck would help solidify their pitching and provide occasional fireworks.
In fact, the Marlins may not have been able to make a play for Buck if not for the plight of Dan Uggla – who had wanted more money and the Marlins were unable to agree to terms. They dealt Uggla to the Braves for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn which helped them focus on defense and pitching while the power of Uggla was lost. The money saved was tossed towards Buck’s contract.
But what is wrong with this deal? Why pay a guy $6M to provide defense behind the plate when you could get similar offensive and defensive production very easily for much less? Buck batted .192 with 12 home runs last season. He struck out 103 times in 343 ABs while only getting 66 hits. That is horrific offensive production that is not worth $6M a year, no matter what kind of magic he may produce behind the plate. Which was not up to snuff – in 2011 Buck had a caught stealing percentage (CS%) of 17% and last season his CS% improved to 28%. In his first three years at Kansas City, Buck was throwing out base stealers about 34% of the time. Rob Brantly, picked up in the trade with the Tigers for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, had an 18% CS% in a much smaller sample size but also at a fraction of the cost.
In John Buck, the Marlins aimed at trying to get better by spending money on named players. The better option would have been to find better production in contracts with value. The Marlins had to shed assets in order to acquire payroll flexibility. The truth is, they may have been better off trying to go another season with Reyes and Buehrle on the roster, but they were not getting production from these players that drastically effected winning. It is best to deal out of the rut before bing stuck in one.