Steve Adams already looked at the stock of one impending free agent in A.J. Pierzynski earlier today, now let's turn our attention to another AL Central catcher. The Tigers informed Gerald Laird that they will not attempt to re-sign him after the season just a week ago, so the soon-to-be 31-year-old backstop will hit the open market for the first time in his career.
Let's see what his stock looks like heading into the winter...
- Laird is arguably the best in baseball when it comes to shutting down the opponent's running game. His 34% caught stealing rate was second base among AL catchers this year with at least 650 innings caught this season, and over the last five years he's thrown out a studly 37.6% of base runners.
- He's extremely durable for a catcher, hitting the disabled list just once since 2004. Like all other catchers though, he'll occasionally miss a day or two with bumps and bruises. It comes with the territory.
- As a Type-B free agent, a team will not have to surrender a draft pick to sign Laird. It's unlikely that the Tigers would offer him arbitration anyway.
- Laird isn't much of a hitter these days, bottoming out at just .207/.263/.304 in 299 plate appearances this year. Over the last three seasons he's put together a .238/.303/.342 batting line.
- Laird's a Scott Boras client, so negotiations don't figure to be easy.
The offensive bar for catchers is pretty low right now, with backstops around the league hitting just .249/.319/.381 in 2010. Given the lack of offense found at the position, teams are focusing more on defense behind the plate, so Laird's cannon arm has definite value.
Jose Molina, a similar no-hit/all-throw catcher, was only able to find a one-year deal worth $400K guaranteed (plus incentives and an club option) last offseason, and even then he had to wait until mid-February. Laird is likely facing a similar situation; a one-year, low base salary contract with some performance bonuses to be a backup somewhere. Catchers are always getting hurt, so even if he settles for a minor league deal he'll probably get an opportunity at some point next summer.