The Tigers have made their first somewhat significant move of the off-season by signing catcher Gerald Laird to a one-year deal. Before you get too upset, keep in that he will probably be playing fewer than 40 games as Alex Avila's back-up catcher. The 32-year-old Laird needs no introduction to Tigers fans who remember him as a good field no hit catcher on the 2009-2010 teams. He spent last year backing up Cardinals starter Yadier Molina and wound up with a World Series ring.
In 884 plate appearances over the past three seasons, the right-handed-hitting Laird has put up a sub-par .220/.291/.319 batting line. On the positive side, he has a .729 lifetime OPS versus left-handed pitchers, and those are the pitchers he'll be facing as you can be sure that Avila will not sit versus many right handers.
Laird is a strong defender with a deadly accurate arm. Over the past three years, he has thrown out 36% of base runners attempting to steal. The MLB average is 28%.
The Tigers used Victor Martinez as their back-up catcher for much of 2011, but ran into trouble when a knee injury confined him to designated hitter in the second half. While Martinez was able to continue to excel offensively, the lack of an experienced back-up forced manager Jim Leyland to use Avila almost every day over the last couple of months. He was obviously beat up and worn down for the playoffs.
The Tigers wanted to add another catcher this winter so that Martinez could be the full-time DH and Avila could get more rest They reportedly also considered Ramon Castro, Jose Molina, Kelly Shoppach and Matt Treanor, but apparently decided that Laird was the best option.