Jose Bautista's incredible season has been the big story for the Blue Jays this year, and for good reason. After blasting his 49th long ball last night, Bautista is just two away from matching Davey Johnson's 1973 record for biggest home run jump in a single season. However, Bautista isn't the only Blue Jay veteran who's having an unexpected career year. Quietly, John Buck has hit .274/.303/.485 in 369 plate appearances and matched his career high in homers (18), while handling a young Toronto starting rotation. Let's break down his stock heading into free agency:
- Buck's offensive performance appears mostly sustainable. He slugged .484 in limited playing time in 2009, and has always had the ability to hit the ball out of the park. Plus, his OBP is right in line with his career rate.
- His numbers haven't been inflated by playing in a homer-friendly park; he's actually hit better on the road (.841 OPS, 11 HR).
- The free agent class of catchers doesn't look as impressive as it might have a few months ago. Veterans like Bengie Molina and A.J. Pierzynski have underperformed, and teams may not be entirely confident in Victor Martinez's ability behind the plate. Buck appears to be one of the more appealing options available.
- At 30 years old, Buck should be able to withstand the wear-and-tear of catching for at least a few more seasons.
- He'll likely remain a Type B free agent, meaning he won't cost a draft pick to sign.
- Buck's .274 batting average isn't a mark he's likely to repeat. He's a career .241 hitter and he has an unusually high BABIP this year.
- His BB/K ratio is a career-worst 12/103.
- The 30-year-old figures to be looking for a contract larger in both years and money than the one-year, $2MM deal he signed with the Jays. He was only a .235/.298/.407 career hitter prior to this season, so suitors may be reluctant to invest millions in him.
Even if the Blue Jays decide to roll the dice with J.P. Arencibia as their primary backstop next season, they should offer Buck arbitration. In the unlikely scenario that he accepts, they'll have him back at an affordable price. If he declines, Buck will probably be looking to land a multi-year deal elsewhere. Last winter, the 35-year-old Bengie Molina was coming off a season similar to Buck's and signed a one-year contract worth $4.5MM. I wouldn't be surprised to see Buck ink a two- or three-year deal for about the same yearly salary that Molina received.