Buying low on Buck

Fan Confidence Poll: January 4th, 2010
By the Decade: The rise, fall and rise of pitching

Travis BuckWhile Joe’s busy recapping possible leftfield options for 2010, I thought I’d go ahead and take a look at a player that could possibly help out the outfield down the road. Both Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are under contract for the next few years, but the Yanks don’t really have a long-term solution for that third outfield spot. Sure, it’s possible that Brett Gardner and/or Jamie Hoffmann assume that role, however it seems unlikely. Neither projects to be anything more than a reserve outfielder on a championship club, and at they haven’t shown enough to be considered anything more than that. And of course, there’s always pricey free agents.

Enter Travis Buck, the forgotten man in Oakland’s outfield picture. As it stands, the A’s are going into the 2010 season with the defense-heavy outfield of Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp, and Ryan Sweeney, and they have both Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham on the roster as well. Buck, after spending the last two years battling concussion issues and nagging injuries, has seemingly fallen into baseball purgatory despite his impressive track record and equally impressive skills.

A first round pick in 2005, Buck was starting on Opening Day for Oakland by 2007 after hitting .328-.398-.511 in 568 minor league plate appearances across four levels. The rapid promotion didn’t phase Buck at all – he hit .288-.377-.474 while playing everyday in rightfield – however his season ended in August because of a pulled hammy. His .369 wOBA matched Derek Jeter‘s offensive output, and had him one stinkin’ point behind Carlos Lee and his nine-figure contract.

Unfortunately for Buck, he hasn’t been able to repeat that performance. He again started in right on Opening Day in 2008, but hit just .154-.197-.277 in 71 plate appearances before shin splints landed him on the disabled list and eventually back in the minors. In 2009 he hit .226-.287-.355 in his first 101 plate appearances before being demoted. Buck plays like nutcase, and suffered a pretty severe concussion when he ran into the wall while in the minors in 2008. He did that same thing again last year, and was dealing with post-concussion syndrome as late as this past October.

As you’ve probably noticed, Buck’s been hurt quite a bit. In addition to the hammy and shin splints and concussions, he’s also missed various amounts of time with a sore wrist, a sore thumb, a strained oblique, and bone chips in his throwing elbow (surgery). The good news is that his injuries are similar to Nick Johnson‘s in that they aren’t related or evidence of a chronic, degenerative issue. Like Ryan Church though, we’re still not sure what kind of toll the concussions have taken.

Back when Buck was Oakland’s top prospect , Baseball America said the following on his ability as a hitter:

He has quick hands, strong wrists and outstanding pitch recognition. He has the bat speed to turn on good fastballs, yet trusts his hands enough to wait out breaking balls. The result is that he stays balanced, uses the whole field with a repeatable, low-maintenance swing and lashes line drives from foul line to foul line. As he gets stronger and learns to use his lower half better, many of his doubles should start going over the fence.

Buck hasn’t exhibited a platoon split in the big leagues (.772 OPS vs. RHP, .768 vs. LHP) and has been serviceable against lefties in the minors (.753 OPS). It’s clear Buck has the hitting tools to be an everyday outfielder, but it’s worth noting that his defense is very good as well. He has a +8.6 UZR in over 1,000 big league innings in right, and Total Zone has Buck as a +17 run defender at the position in his minor league career. The sample sizes for left and center are too small to say anything, but I’m sure he provides better than Johnny Damon-level defense in those spots. Baseball Prospectus says he’s cost the A’s two runs on the basepaths in 208 times on base in the big leagues, which for all intents and purposes means he’s a league average baserunner. Sadly, that would represent an improvement for the team as a whole.

I’m not 100% certain, but it looks like Buck will fall short of qualifying as a Super Two after 2010 (assuming he spends the entire year in the bigs), which means he has two more pre-arbitration years left and five more seasons of team control left overall. He also has one option remaining, which is always a plus. Acquiring Buck would be a move geared more towards 2011 and beyond than 2010, as the Yanks could use that remaining option to give him a full season of Triple-A at-bats. He could catch his breath at one level for once and focus on staying healthy while hanging out with former Arizona State teammate Colin Curtis.

As a lefthanded batter with decent pop, good defense, and very good on-base skills, it’s easy to see why a player like Buck would be a good fit for the Yankees. Plus it’s not like they’re loaded with outfield prospects in the high minors anyway. Given his health troubles, poor big league showings over the last two years, and Oakland’s crowded outfield, Buck might be a little undervalued at the moment. Then again, Billy Beane is a pretty smart dude, so maybe not. Hopefully Brian Cashman can pull off another ninja move to add a young hitter like Buck for depth.

Photo Credit: Lisa Blumenfeld, Getty Images

Fan Confidence Poll: January 4th, 2010
By the Decade: The rise, fall and rise of pitching
  • DRU

    I like your thought process Mike, Kudos! Love me some buy low material. Cashmoney has been pretty good over the last couple years doing that. Swisher last year, Granderson this year. If your scenario plays out, we could have the “All Under Valued OF”.

    I think another guy who should be available next year is Luke Scott. He’s a little old ( will turn 32 this year ), but Ive always loved his power. He’s not a long term solution, but may be a decent stop gap next year if we decide to go all out for pitching ( Webb, Beckett, Lee ). His LH stroke would be perfect for Yankee stadium.

    I wish the Yanks would have went after Juan Rivera before he blew up last year, I love that guy too.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      Plus Luke Scott’s from Volusia County. REPRESENT…WESTSIDE..

      • Brooklyn Ed

        as a former Volusia County resident, I hereby approves this comment. woohoo!!

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          We’re not great at counting Presidential Ballots, but we are able to produce some quality athletes.

          • Jon in Residential Port Orange

            Don’t forget Chipper Jones – DeLand native

    • Evilest Empire

      I’m so confused by Luke Scott’s fielding info on Fangraphs. He had a positive UZR in LF/RF whenever he had a chance to play there, mostly in 2007 in RF for the Astros and 2008 in LF for the Orioles, but he was basically strictly a DH in 2009.

      If he’s just league average defensively in a corner spot, his bat would play a whole lot better than Gardner’s in LF.

      But pretty sure he’s not worth it, considering his salary and the cost of prospects it’d take to land him. Might as well just sign Johnny if you can get Luke Scott.

    • http://downtown ansky

      Yanks need to keep lf open for Crawford,
      Montero, or Jeter in the next few years.

      • Chris

        If they didn’t shell out the money for Holliday, why would they do so for an inferior player in Crawford?

        • Sweet Dick Willie

          Jeter will not (regularly) play a position other than SS for the NYY. Book it.

        • The Three Amigos

          Because he costs less?

        • JT

          One reason is if the Yankees sign two type A free agents in the same year, they only lose one 1st round draft pick. There’s a good chance they sign one of the top free agent pitchers next year, so signing Crawford wouldn’t cost them a first rounder.

  • whozat

    Mike, your trade proposal sucks ;-)

    Seriously, though, who would you be willing to spend to get Buck?

    • vin

      That’s what I’m wondering. I would assume Beane could get more for Buck from a team that has a more immediate need for him. Interesting player, though.

      • whozat

        Show me, though, a team that has a more immediate need but can also afford to take the risk that he doesn’t bounce back.

  • Jordan – Cashman Has No Equal

    I like this.

  • Accent Shallow

    But would Oakland be willing to give him up? I wouldn’t want to rely on an OF of Davis/Crisp/Sweeney without some sort of backup plan for offense — none of those guys are much in the way of hitters.

    • Camilo Gerardo

      grant desme in center (K problems, but he is legit), Doolittle in a corner

  • Matt Imbrogno

    As always, it depends on the price.

  • Mattingly’s Love Child

    Buck is exactly the type of player I think the Yankees should take risks on. Love this.

    Of course it depends on price, but what the heck would Beane think he could get for Buck?

    • jsbrendog

      he might think nothing much so he could leave him in aaa since he has an option left and just hope he mashes and he can trade him/use him later.

  • Business Suit

    The problem is, Oakland can sit on his poor performance of the past two years without suffering. They obviously like Buck given his minor league numbers and scouting report and clearly expected him to be more ’07 than not. Why would they give him up? Only if they could something back even better than that 2007 was.

    As you say, Beane is smart and I don’t see him giving up Buck for anything less than a high ceiling, proven player, just what the Yankees shouldn’t do.

    Maybe Buck will revert to his older ways, but the Yankees can’t take that chance for anything more than spare minor league parts. I don’t think he’s undervalued by the people who matter (Beane) and because he’s got so many years under team control they have no reason to give up on him, especially since his recent performance will net less than they think he’s actually worth.

    I just don’t see this happening at a reasonable price.

  • mryankee

    Ok what is witha ll these marginal guys. If your getting one of these guys why not keep Gardner? I mean how much better than Gardner are any of these guys. Unless its Damon or Holliday just stay with Gardner.

    • Zack

      why are you comfortable going into the season with just Gardner and no back up plan?

      • mryankee

        Because all the backup plan being mentioned are marginal talents. If we all agree Gardner is a marginal talent then why not let him start. His speed and defnse will be enough for this lineup. Unless its Damon or Holliday I say just stay pat.

        • andrew

          But if Gardner’s marginal talent fails, we have no back up option. If Gardner plays well, great, Buck(or insert marginal talent here) can just be the 4th outfielder. If Gardner doesn’t play well out of the gates (See: 2009), then the Yankees should have a competent back up plan to insert into the lineup

          • Chris

            If Gardner’s marginal talent fails, then the Yankees can always go out and acquire another marginal (or better) talent during the season. There are still only 25 roster spots, so you can’t carry 8 marginal left fielders to guarantee that one has a good season.

            • andrew

              so you can’t carry 8 marginal left fielders to guarantee that one has a good season.

              Clever. I definitely remember suggesting the Yankees do that.

              As of right now it’s Gardner and Hoffmann for left field. I’m not suggesting they get 8 outfielders who suck, but last year the Yankees started the season with Damon, Melky, Gardner, Swisher, Nady. They have enough roster space for 5 outfielders. Buck(or Reed Johnson) would just be another guy in the mix and it wouldn’t prevent them from filling out the rest of their roster adequately.

        • Zack

          That’s the definition of a backup plan, marginal talents. If you sign a good player then he is not a backup plan, he is the starter.

          Gardner may be a marginal talent, or he may just be fast. If he’s not good and just sucks will that be enough for the lineup? Or if he sucks would you rather have the option to insert a veteran like Reed who has proven he is able to play in the majors?

  • mryankee

    However if teh difference between bringing Damon back is say 1-2 Million then the Yankees should just sign him.

  • V Squared

    Buck for a bag of balls and the 2009 World Series DVD.
    Not a thing more.

    • mryankee

      I agree whats with all these nobodies being mentioned to play left field. Just sign Damon or use Gardner and be done with it.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        Did you read the post above? Mike talks about this being more a move for 2011 than 2010. If Buck could be had cheaply, you stash him at AAA. Let him spend the year getting right. If he sucks, no big deal. If he mashes, well then you have him under contract for 2011. If he REALLY mashes, then you can have him challenge Gardner.

  • Scooter

    So this means that Reed Johnson costs less than a Buck?

    I don’t know Oakland’s minor league system well – do they need pitching? I wonder if this could get done for ZMac or Nova + another prospect

    • mryankee

      To much way to much for a mediocre player. Stick with Gradner and sign Chapman and be done with it

    • Matt Imbrogno

      That’s a little much for Buck.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        Corona + a relief pitcher (Fat Sanchez?) sounds more reasonable to me

  • ADam

    Top 4 Candidates for LF?

    Reed Johnson
    Xavier Nady
    Travis Buck

    • mryankee

      Nothing to exciting in that list.

      • andrew

        Damon isn’t exciting to you? Well then hopefully they sign Holliday, wouldn’t want you to jump.

        • DRU

          I think the best choice is still to play Granderson in LF, Gardner in CF and have a Reed Johnson or Jonny Gomes as the RH complement. Johnson has much better D and hits LHP to a higher AVG, but Gomes is a masher of LHP too and serviceable in the field. I think that a combo of Brett/RJ or Brett/JG is the best plan of action for the yanks in 2010.

          • andrew

            If Damon doesn’t come back, I agree, Reed Johnson is probably the best option. Although Granderson would be in CF.

          • Jordan – Cashman Has No Equal

            Gomes is not in the least serviceable in the field. Check his UZR/150. It’s not a ton of data, but it is clear he is a defensive liability.

            • DRU

              His 2009 UZR/150 in LF was better than Damons was last year.

              • DRU

                2009 UZR/150 LF

                Gomes = 2.2
                Damon = -12.1

                • Zack

                  It was 33 games, go look at all his other numbers in the OF, he sucks out there

                • DRU

                  Well 30+ games is all he really gets at one position per year. Maybe if he’s only playing LF, he would improve. Dont get me wrong though, he’s no Tori Hunter circa 2000. I always thought Gomes sucked in the OF, the numbers do indicate that he sucked, but not that bad. I guess its all relative. Over the past 2 years we’ve had 2 of the worst OF’s in the game. Damon last year was near the bottom of the league in LF fielding metrics and Abreu was the worst by a mile in RF. Dont expect Gomes to save you any games in LF, but if you play him part time against tough lefties ( he can hit Lester ), and he can hit close to .300 AVG with .500 SLG against the southpaws, he’s worth it. I still would love for the Yanks to give Brett a full time gig to see if he can work out his problems against lefties, but I know the Yanks wont do that. So yes, Reed Johnson would be a great fit, but I would list Gomes as #2 if it was up to me.

      • Chris

        Having a demon playing in LF would be pretty exciting.

  • kadhkl

    How come the A’s OF is considered defensively strong and Brett Gardner is little more than a 4th OF on a championship club? Can’t he just be what he is, a speedy plus defender who needs to get on base more?

    How much better would a up and down injury-plagued guy who hasn’t hit above .250 at the ML level since 07 be over Hoffman/Gardner? Can we stop with this “hey let’s throw a bunch of #^%* at the wall and see if it sticks technique” for finding a leftfielder? Please?

    • Matt Imbrogno

      What’s the alternative, though? Throw a bunch of eggs in the Matt Holliday basket? Bring back Damon for too many years and too much money?

      • mryankee

        Whats too much money offer damon two years at 13 million and see what happens. If that is to much money then there is a problem.

        • Matt Imbrogno

          2/13 for Damon would be incredible. I doubt he agrees to that, though.

          • andrew

            I’m guessing at this point he would agree to that.

            • Matt Imbrogno

              I don’t think he would, even in his desperate situation.

              • andrew

                Agree to disagree. But he hasn’t had any other contract offers or serious talks that we know of from any team, i really think he’d prefer the 2/13 rather than face the Bobby Abreu contract in a few weeks.

          • JMK aka The Overshare’s Excessive Back Hair Complex

            No it isn’t. A one year deal would be incredible, not a two year.

            • Matt Imbrogno

              Fair enough; a two year deal at that price would be fine, though.

        • Zack

          Except, that’s not Damon’s asking price?

          • DRU

            The last I heard about the Damon offer was 2/24, the Yanks turned him down and he came back to accept a 2/20 deal, which the Yanks turned down. I think the ONLY way JD is playing for the Yanks in 2010 is if he gets no offers from other clubs well into March and has to do what Abreu did last year and sign a 1 year 5M contract. If that’s the case, Id take him back. However, you know a team is going to give him at least 2/20, so don’t plan on Johnny back in the BX.

  • Aj

    Shouldn’t the Yanks go after a reliever as well instead of just a LF? I don’t think there’s any real decent cheap options out there for LF. Except either Cust or maybe Buck according to Mike. I would like to see the Yanks go after Jose Arredondo. He’s got a great arm, and last year he was among the best relievers in baseball. And according to his “official” birthday he’s only 26. Our bullpen could be good, but I don’t see how people are in love with Damaso Marte even though his best performance was in limited innings in the postseason. Aceves, Joba/Hughes and Robertson are good, but for some reason I feel we’re an arm short. I don’t have faith in Boone Logan, Mark Melancon, Albaladejo, or Edwar. But, Maybe I’m just crazy.

    • Mattingly’s Love Child

      Arredondo just had TJ surgery…

      • Aj

        wow. There should be a delete post on RAB.

        • JMK aka The Overshare’s Excessive Back Hair Complex

          A knowledge requirement would be nice too, but hey, we can’t have everything, amirite?!

      • DRU

        Yeah and last year Arrendondo was horrible, in 08 he busted onto the scene, but his low K rate meant that his incredibly low ERA was probably not something he could sustain. If we want to go with some type of RP like that, I think the Yanks should consider Santiago Casilla as well. I like our pen though.

        Mo = the man
        Marte = you saw how dominate he was at the end of last year, if he’s healthy, he’s a dominate 8th inning guy.

        Robertson = led the league in k/9

        Aceves = a great long man, he has no fear

        After that it gets a little dicey…

        Melancon is a horse, but he has not translated his dominate minor league numbers into MLB success…yet.

        Boone Logan – a lefty specialist who gets hit too much

        Albaladejo didn’t do much

        Edwar Ramirez ditto

        There are some ?’s in the pen for sure, but we were in a worse situation last year and our pen was great. Every team in the league is wondering who will be there 4th and 5th RP’s, nothing wrong with a couple of ?’s that far down the pecking order. The big question is what to do with Hughes? The yanks want to get his innings up so he can be our #5 in 2011. To do that the Yanks will make him a starter in Spring Training, then probably start him at AAA in case there is an injury, he would be the #6 starter. If the 5 guys stay healthy through the All-Star break, you bring Phil back to the show as a RP to get his innings up to 150. Then he can go full time starter in 2011. So really, our pen will get a boost equivalent to a huge July trade. Until that time, we will have the kids audition for the 6th and 7th innings. The 8th and 9th are locked down. So no, I dont think there’s a need to pick up a RP, it will just be a waste like it was bringing in LaTroy Hawkins.

        I say the Yanks bring in a RH OF that hits LHP like Reed Johnson or Jonny Gomes to complement Gardner and go into the season ready to roll!

    • Matt Imbrogno

      Isn’t Arredondo out for the year?

      As for Logan, Melancon, Alphabet, and Edwar, they’re back end options, anyway, and likely won’t be big factors at all.

      • Aj

        Yes he’s done for 2010, And who knows if he’ll be effective after tommy john surgery. I retract my statement.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        Edwar can close Igawa’s games for the rest of his career as far as I’m concerned (preferably doing it while NOT on the 40 man roster).

    • Zack

      “but I don’t see how people are in love with Damaso Marte even though his best performance was in limited innings in the postseason.”

      Because when he’s healthy that’s how good he is.

      • jsbrendog

        seriously, its january and someone needs to bust out the monthly “damaso marte is a great relief pitcher” post again for the people with short and selective memories

  • nycornerstones

    just sign barry bonds for 1 million and be done with it! lol yanks would hit 300 hrs. i know it will never happen. but a nice thought anyway, bonds is in left out right now anyway

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  • AsFan2010

    A’s fan perspective. The handling of buck has been puzzling. He was considered a core hitter piece for the A’s 2 years ago. He was ranked a top 50 prospect and the #1 prospect. Of course his injuries havent helped either. Over the last couple years, A’s have added OF depth which has pushed Buck lower. He’ll likely be in AAA w/ Michael Taylor, Aaron Cunningham, Corey Brown, Sean Doolittle, etc. Apparently team inquired about Buck at the winter meetings, but Beane said no. Also Buck surprisingly has been working with Swisher and the yankees batting coach, so there is some connection there. It seems A’s would rather keep Buck as emergency that take a subpar, low ball offer.

    I spoke to onetime A’s right fielder Travis Buck yesterday about the most recent influx of outfielders, which presumably pushes him down the depth chart again, but Buck has a good attitude about the whole thing: He said that if he goes out and does what he’s supposed to during the spring, either the A’s will want him or someone else might.

    To that end, Buck has been working with ex-A’s outfielder Nick Swisher and Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. Buck has all but eliminated his famous “waggle” and he said that for the first time, he’s really incorporating his lower body into his swing. That gives him more power, Buck said. (And that’s certainly something the A’s could use.) He’s very happy with the results.

    Buck said his agent heard some rumblings during the winter meetings that some other teams might have interest in him but A’s GM Billy Beane didn’t express interest in parting with him.

    Read more:

  • Steve

    Buck has always seemed like Eric Byrnes lite.

  • AsFan2010

    How about Buck + Josh Donaldson for McAllister?

    John Sickles ranking in their farm systems:

    4) Zach McAllister, RHP, Grade B-: Strike-throwing-ground-ball-generating-inning-gobbler with advanced pitching feel. A fifth starter, long reliever, or trade bait in New York.

    9) Josh Donaldson, C, Grade B-: Great plate discipline, nails baserunners, still polishing other defensive aspects and power remains largely untapped.

  • http://paulintell Paul Nussbaum

    Sounds like Pete Reiser without the bat to me

  • Joebrah

    Wow. This article made my mlbtraderumors twitter.

    Mike Axisa of River Ave. Blues would like to see the Yankees buy low on Oakland’s Travis Buck. Buck made our list of right field trade candidates back in November.

  • Steve B.

    “…Then again, Billy Beane is a pretty smart dude, so maybe not…”

    Billy Beane is anything BUT a smart dude…his MoneyBall is a dismal failure…he has won nothing, NOTHING as GM of the A’s…how he still has his job, is beyond reason.

  • JackISBACK

    I think another factor is his home road splits. He’s been terrible at home for the A’s (a very good pitchers park because of the vast foul grounds), but his career road numbers are impressive.

    .302/.375/.530 with a .905 OPS. Now he’s been lucky on the road, but unlucky at home, so his true talent is somewhere in between. And all these are short sample sizes as well. He’d be someone I wouldn’t mind taking a chance on. He hits good amounts of line drives, has decent pop, and can play all three OF spots.

  • Josh from Brooklyn

    This is ridiculous. Sure, let’s trade prospects for Travis Buck: a player with no speed, average (at best) defense and average (at best) power… and oh, by the way, he’s always hurt.

    We’re the New York Yankees. We don’t need to trade prospects for a player that we hope bounces back into scouting report form. Leave that up to the Milwaukees and San Diegos of the world, that are looking to catch lightning in a bottle.

    We have an outfield right now, and it has power, speed and defensive skills. Move Grandy to left field (where he’s played in the past) and start Gardner in center. Grandy can float into his 30s in the less demanding left field role. Gardner’s UZR is phenomenal, his OBP is solid, and his speed is lethal. Start him in center and watch him run down gappers all summer… will be fun to watch.

    The fact that we’re now down to scraping the barrel for Travis Buck is ridiculous. Yes, we’re letting Johnny Damon go, folks. Everything will be okay. We’re replacing him with Granderson. And replacing Melky with Gardner. That, plus we’ve added Vazquez, who is going to eat 200+ innings out of the number 4 starter slot.

    All is good. Let the Mets trade their prospects for the Travis Bucks of the world.