The Atlanta Braves signed catcher Gerald Laird to a two-year deal following David Ross‘s departure to the Boston Red Sox. Laird will serve as the primary backup catcher for the next two years in Atlanta but also as the starter when the season begins, as Brian McCann recovers from his off-season shoulder surgery.
He will obviously not garner much attention this spring training, but he will play a vital role on the team that won’t show up in the box score.
2012 Recap: Not known for his bat, Laird had a solid 2012 season as he posted a .282 batting average, .337 OBP and .710 OPS in 63 games with the Detroit Tigers. Laird made six postseason starts, including two in the World Series – his second straight season playing in the World Series. Defensively, he allowed just two passed balls and finished with a .991 fielding percentage, but only threw out 10 of 42 possible base-stealers.
2013 Outlook: The Braves would love for Laird to hit .282 again in 2013, but he’ll most likely have a year closer to his career .244 average.
He has just one hit in nine plate appearances so far in spring training. However, offensive production will be a bonus with him, as the Braves should get plenty of offense from their catchers with McCann and Evan Gattis. What Laird will provide is solid defense, game management and a veteran presence on and off the field.
On the field, he has a better and more accurate arm than McCann. Despite struggling last season, he has thrown out 54.8 percent of runners attempting to steal on him for his career (McCann at 31.1 percent). Laird’s WAR last season was 0.9 and has ranged from zero to two throughout his career – a serviceable backup, according to Fangraphs.
Off the field, Laird will work with basically all young players. The rotation will consist of young pitchers Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. The arms coming out of the bullpen also are young. Having a veteran catcher to call games and know batter tendencies will only help the young guys to have success.
Laird will also serve as a mentor to the catchers on the Braves’ roster. It’s no secret this will likely be McCann’s last year in Atlanta, and the Braves will turn to prospect Christian Bethancourt or perhaps Gattis in 2014. Being around him this spring training will be huge for Bethancourt and Gattis to gain further understanding of calling games.
Laird knows he isn’t in Atlanta to be the starter. His value comes from his experience on and off the field. Passing along those experiences to the young pitchers and catchers could lead to him playing in a third straight World Series.