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Buck Stops Here

John Buck (photo credit: by Ed Zurga)
The Mariners designated John Buck for assignment after last night's exquisite 2-0  win against the Twins, where the pitching staff reasserted once again that they are in a dominant hot stretch as an entire unit. Buck's production can be rather easily replaced - he played in only 27 games so far this year and posted an OPS south of .600 with what many considered shaky defense at times. Still, the move surprised, and should be a surprise since it is not the best idea the Mariners have had this season.

Whenever a veteran sticks around without much production, reports surface of their "intangibles" and "leadership," because (at least in my opinion) it is up to us as fans to rationalize why an inferior player continues to occupy a spot in the Major Leagues. Buck, based on his age and production, fits in this category, and unsurprisingly news of such intangibles and leadership popped up once news broke. However, unlike most of these reports, there are concrete stories to back up Buck's influence beyond the baselines. Ultimately talent wins games, but I am a believer that talent performs best in supportive climates. Buck helped establish a climate that supported success.

This move, on the surface level, might make good sense. Prevailing wisdom predicts that Jesus Scure will take Buck's spot on the roster. Sucre, according to scouts, is a superior defensive catcher to Buck. Zunino keeps piling up innings at a quicker rate than most MLB catchers, which seems like a good way to wear him out in his first full MLB season, so finding someone to spell him more often is a good idea. If McClendon has been hesitant to use Buck because of defensive purposes, then by all means this decision makes some sense.

However, the timing feels awkward and unfortunate. The Mariners cut loose Buck on his birthday, immediately following a nice victory. What a buzzkill, to say the least. I am sure that McClendon, Zduriencik, and the whole front office knew that Buck was popular in the clubhouse. They must have understood how somber of a move this would be. Some of the heaviness seems so easy to avoid, too - why not DFA Buck today and announce simultaneously Sucre's promotion? That would have let the good mood linger last night. Also, only one day a year is Buck's birthday, meaning today is not his birthday, which is a plus.

The only rationale I can come up with for DFA'ing Buck postgame, without a corresponding move, is that the the team got to say goodbye to him and focus only on his departure. Perhaps the brief space provided between Buck's departure and Sucre's (assumed) arrival also allows enough space for the Mariners clubhouse to welcome Sucre with arms a bit more outstretched.

Whatever the reasoning, this small move feels like a significant insight into Lloyd McClendon and Jack Zduriencik's leadership. On the field this move does not look like much, which is why it seems so puzzling. If the Mariners feel better about one of their AAA catchers than John Buck, then they should pull the trigger like they just did. That's a good thing.

How they handled this move speaks volumes about how they treat the players as humans. Both McClendon and Zduriencik know the temperament of the clubhouse better than you or me, and I hope they know it well enough to handle this situation correctly. Ultimately, these are professional baseball players and they understand that the game is competitive, to the point that it is cutthroat at times. Establishing a culture where the best players get opportunities is good. However, establishing a culture where players are crassly cut loose is bad. The Buck could support either type of culture, at least from my perspective on the outside looking in. Here's hoping, from the inside, this feels more like a tough move emotionally, but a move that fits within the vision the players have of what it means to be a part of the Mariners.