NEW YORK – John Buck wasn’t surprised the first time he was traded during the off-season, although the scope and magnitude of the blockbuster between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays caught him off-guard.
When a month later Alex Anthopoulos spun him off to the New York Mets as part of the R.A. Dickey deal there was no shock either, the GM having warned him that another deal was a distinct possibility.
Somewhat unexpected is that nearly a month into the 2013 season, with eight homers, 23 RBIs and .263 batting average, the veteran catcher may very well be the most productive player involved in either transaction so far.
“I’m getting to play every day in a division I was familiar with, so a lot of positives stepped up in my favour,” Buck said Saturday, before hitting homer No. 8 in the Mets’ loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. “It was either Toronto, which was a great city we fell in love with, or New York which is even bigger and has all the hoopla for baseball.
“If you have an image in your head when you’re a little kid playing a big game, it would always be either Yankee Stadium or then Shea Stadium, and to be able to come here and play, that part is fun and exciting.”
Less fun and more eventful was the off-season, when he was a late throw-in to the blockbuster between the Marlins and Blue Jays that also sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis, Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick and Anthony DeSclafani.
Having watched prospect Rob Brantly get a long look behind the plate last September, after the Marlins had already purged Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, Buck understood he wasn’t long for Miami, especially being in the final season of an $18-million, three-year deal.
“With so many teams needing catching, I figured I might be a commodity that’s moveable,” he explained. “To the degree it went down, I didn’t know that big a trade was going to happen.
“I was excited to go back to Toronto, I loved playing there.”
Buck was an all-star with the Blue Jays in 2010, when he batted .281 with 20 home runs and 66 RBIs, but realized he wouldn’t displace J.P. Arencibia, and was by no means caught off-guard when Anthopoulos told him that he may be moved yet again.
He sat tight, bided his time, and a month after the first deal, he ended up getting sent to the Mets along with catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud – his expected heir in New York – and young fireballer Noah Syndergaard.
“The way I was, I said, ‘All right, I’m a Toronto Blue Jay,’ there’s nothing I can do other than prepare for the season and do that,” Buck said of the way he approached his month in limbo. “I’ve been around enough to know I’d be somewhere, and wherever I landed, it would be the place I’m supposed to be. I wasn’t too worried about it.”
Still, Buck couldn’t keep himself from imagining what things would have been like with the Blue Jays.
“Of course, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that, and catch that pitching staff?” he said. “Plus J.J., Mark, I caught all those guys over there, and all the guys that would have been there (from his previous stint with the Blue Jays). That would have been fun, but J.P. is obviously doing well over there.”
Not doing well are the Blue Jays as a whole out of the gate after their big winter.
Buck, of course, was part of the failed Marlins build up before the 2012 season, one that ended with a 69-93 record and subsequent tear-down.
Asked what went wrong in Miami, he replied: “A combination of a lot of stuff.”
“It was a year where a lot of things could of went differently and they didn’t, they would snowball and then we all were trying a little too hard, I think,” he continued. “We’re all competitors and definitely felt like we were all underachieving. It’s weird in this game, when you try harder you get worse.”
When it was suggested the Blue Jays might be going through the same thing right now, Buck countered by saying, “They’ve had some injuries that have been pretty crucial to their team.”
Whatever the case, Buck’s got more pressing things to worry about.
In many ways there are parallels between his 2010 season with the Blue Jays and his current campaign with the Mets.
“A lot of people have asked with Travis behind, me being this mentor, I was like, ‘Well, that’s not really how I view myself,’” Buck said. “It was the exact same situation in Toronto with J.P. there, I didn’t approach it that way, I approached it as I’m the man for this year. The Mets didn’t get me to come in here and just be buddy, buddy and hold the job down until someone is ready.
“They’re paying me to do a job and be a professional behind the plate, and that’s what I intend to do. If I take care of business and do my job, like I did in 2010, it will be a better situation for me and the Mets and hopefully for Travis.”
So far so good for Buck, while the Blue Jays still await their payoff.