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Marlins Ink John Buck

No owner attracts more synonyms of cheap than the Marlins’ Jeffrey Loria. Parsimoniously or prudently—depending on your perspective – the Marlins roster usually consist of players in the Land Before Dime stage of their careers. The conversation briefly, ever so briefly, centered on Loria’s sudden generosity yesterday when the team inked John Buck for three years and $18 million … then the team went and traded Dan Uggla for a (perceived) whimsical return.

On Buck – who possesses one of the most preposterously pun-able names for two separate categories of player: 1) home run hitting 2) paid baseball player – the contract appears overproduced. Too much pay and too many years make for a poor soundtrack. The 2010 season stands out in Buck’s portfolio as it does for many of his Blue Jays teammates. Buck racked up nearly 2,000 plate appearances with the Royals from 2004-2008 and hit .234/.298/.398 with 20 home runs per 592 trips. Over the last two seasons, Buck has 639 plate appearances with 28 home runs and a line of .271/.309/.487.

Aggression seems to be the key to Buck’s succession from the guild of no-hit catchers. Buck upped his first-pitch (41% first five years versus 49% the last two) and overall swing rates (56.8% last season, pre-2009 full season career high being 51.7% in 2005) while also cutting his walk rates (7.2% first five versus 4.5% the last two) and percentage of strikeouts looking (33% first five versus 14% the last two). All of which seemingly supports Keith Law’s observation that Buck is a fastball hitter who changed his approach recently.

Teams have access to more information than any outside source, which should mean Buck’s ability to live off fastballs early in the count will soon be exploited. Buck also does not figure to hold a .335 batting average on balls in play again either- his career average even now is only .289. Most of those extra hits seem to be extra singles, as Buck’s percentage of hits that went for extra bases was actually less than his career average last season – 39% versus 40% — and his home run per fly ball ratio remained consistent with career norms.

A move away from the American League is always healthy, but moving from the home run friendly confines of the Rogers Centre could dampen the effects. Nevertheless, Buck still stands a good shot at being an upgrade. Florida’s collection of catchers hit .226/.289/.338 in 2010 as six different players received at least 20 innings behind the plate. Major League Baseball hit Ronny Paulino with a suspension during the season and the Marlins will likely hit him with a non-tender soon. That leaves Brad Davis and Brett Hayes in line for the backup job until John Baker returns and forms the John Buckner platoon with Buck.

Even with an inflated cost per win and deflated starting catcher market, one has to wonder about the annual average cost of $6 million. If the market is on its tiptoes, with a value per win around $5 million, then Buck is being paid for 1.2 wins. He is generally good for that, with the exception of the defensively poor 2008 and shortened 2009, although that stands to vary with the defensive methodology used. Still, that’s with the high per win mark, which may or may not come to fruition.

With that, there’s certainly some reason to think the Marlins overpaid in dollars and years alike. Such a sentence holds so many questions and so few answers. Is there not an inherent inverse relationship with years and money anymore? Since when do the Marlins overpay for marginal talent like this? Amazingly, those aren’t even the most compelling questions surrounding this franchise today.