Entering the 2013 season, the catcher position seemed to be a liability for the New York Mets.
During the offseason, the Mets shipped R.A. Dickey, the reigning National League Cy Young award winner, north of the border to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package centered around top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud.
But, as most predicted, d'Arnaud began the year in Triple-A Las Vegas. And, at least for the time being, there's no rush to call up the 24-year-old to the big league club. As part of the deal, the Mets also acquired John Buck, who, at the time, appeared to be nothing more than a throw-in, or a guy who could bridge the gap to d'Arnaud.
Buck struggled in each of the last two seasons with the Marlins, posting batting averages of .227 and a career-low .192 in 2011 and 2012, respectively. He was traded to the Blue Jays as a part of the blockbuster deal that landed Toronto former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. When you consider the fact that the Marlins were going to have to pay Buck $6 million this season, it's not hard to figure out that his salary was the Blue Jays' expense for doing business with Miami.
The Blue Jays, according to their general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, (Link: http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/mets/post/_/id/59514/conference-call-recaps-on-dickey-trade#more) then flipped Buck to the Mets for similar reasons; they weren't going to pay $6 million for a catcher who posted a career-worst .644 OPS in 2012.
However, to this point, Buck has been a bargain for the Mets. He leads the National League in RBI with 15, while his five home runs equal the total output from Mets catching combined last season.
Let's not get carried away, though, nine games is a bit too soon to believe Buck has gone from a career .237 hitter in 10 seasons to a bona fide slugger at the age of 32.
His impatience and lack of selectivity at the plate have contributed to his subpar average, with pitchers getting him to chase balls outside the strike zone. Buck has stayed true to his free-swinging tendencies, having walked just one time in 35 plate appearances this season. That's fine when he's tearing the cover off the ball, but pitchers tend to make adjustments to hot hitters.
For all his early success, conventional wisdom says that Buck will revert back to the hitter he has been for his first 3,131 at bats rather than his last 32. That might not be such a bad thing for the Mets in the long run, considering when d'Arnaud gets called up, he won't be taking playing time away from their best hitter.
Until then, just sit back and enjoy Buck's ride. Just don't be disappointed when he comes back to Earth.
(Justin Silberman is a journalism and new media major at Towson University, located in Baltimore and true Mets fan.)