When the Mets sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto earlier this offseason (along with Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas), they received two of the Blue Jays’ top prospects in Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. Toronto also threw in veteran catcher John Buck to complete the deal. Buck is expected to begin the season as the Mets’ No. 1 catcher, eventually deferring to d’Arnaud when he is deemed ready to play every day at the major league level.
Although Buck’s time as a starter may be a short one, he isn’t acting like a player who was considered to be a “throw-in” in the multi-player swap. In fact, recent statements by Buck make him look more like a throwback at the catcher’s position than a throw-in.
In 2012, Johan Santana started off the season strongly after missing the entire 2011 campaign. But after his historic no-hitter on June 1, Santana’s feel-good season crumbled faster than a late-inning lead. The general consensus was that Santana’s horrid stretch – he became the first Met to allow six or more earned runs in five consecutive starts – was due to nagging ankle and back injuries, as well as fatigue from the long layoff following his 2011 shoulder surgery. But John Buck doesn’t see it that way.
In an interview with Kevin Burkhardt, Buck claimed that Santana might have been tipping his pitches last year. Buck will work with Santana in Port St. Lucie to “tighten some of those things up” and considers the matter all clear.
In addition, Buck has also been offering advice to Matt Harvey, who will be entering his first full season in the major leagues in 2013. Harvey was brilliant in a ten-start tryout for the Mets in 2012, recording a stellar 2.73 ERA and striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings. His new catcher was impressed by his “heavy stuff”, but has some advice for Harvey if he wants to be more successful at the big league level. Buck said:
“My focus with him is to hone down what he needs to be effective as a power pitcher. If you get up there as a power pitcher and just aimlessly throw pitches, sometimes, as a hitter, you can wait on that. But if he uses his stuff effectively in those power situations, then you’re not only being a power pitcher, you’re keeping the hitters off-balance.”
John Buck figures to get the bulk of the catching duty for the Mets while Travis d’Arnaud gets more seasoning at AAA-Las Vegas. But even after d’Arnaud gets his eventual promotion, Buck figures to be a key member of the team. He won’t be calling pitches from behind the plate, but he will be coaxing his pitchers to perform better from the bench, serving as the team’s unofficial second pitching coach and manager.
Many former catchers have gone on to become managers after their playing careers were over. But new Mets catcher John Buck isn’t waiting for his playing days to end to serve as a mentor both on and off the field.
Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard may have been the key pieces in the deal that sent R.A. Dickey to Toronto. But don’t call John Buck the throw-in in the deal. Rather, call him a throwback to the days when catchers served as the team’s on-field manager. The Mets hope Buck’s experience and insight will help the young starters and the veterans to pitch to the best of their abilities. If they do, then the throwback might just allow the team to look ahead to better days at Citi Field.