As much as I wanted to slap my own face at the thought, the Detroit Tigers did end up missing Gerald Laird in 2011. You are probably wondering if I am a little off my rocker after reading that first line, so I will try and make my point quickly. The Tigers missed the idea of Gerald Laird, not necessarily the player. Laird still proved he couldn’t hit a lick in St. Louis……an every day catcher he is not. However, the Tigers did prove to need a defensive minded backup catcher in 2011 who could take some of the work load off of starter Alex Avila, and it showed in the playoffs.
Before you scream into your computer screen at me, “That’s what Victor Martinez was for!”, I do realize that Martinez was supposed to be the part time catcher. However, Martinez and his bad knees got in the way, forcing the Tigers to go with Avila more than they probably would have liked. Hindsight being 20/20, I would imagine that if Dombrowski and company had to do it over again, Omir Santos would have seen more time. Now, they go into the off-season with the priority of finding someone to give Avila and his tender knees a little more R&R in 2012.
If you follow us at Motor City Bengals, you would know that I believe that there is a solution in house to this issue already. It’s not even that old of an article, I wrote it yesterday. His name is Brandon Inge. Inge, however, has some shoddy knees himself, so there is no guarantee that he would be able to even handle the load of catching 40 games either. I would probably force Inge to do it anyway, but I am not the Tigers front office, and they may go outside the organization to try and fill the need.
No, I am not suggesting that the Tigers go back to Gerald Laird (or am I?). I don’t think I could take all the boos that would fill Comerica every day he played. But as a backup, he is essentially what I am suggesting the Tigers look for. A guy who can come in, handle a pitching staff, and not be a mess defensively behind the dish. Even if Victor Martinez’ knees were good enough to handle the role he was brought in for, his defense is like having a track team run around the bases with no finish line.
Let’s assume that the Tigers don’t use Brandon Inge behind the plate for around 30-40 games. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that I am wrong on that one, considering the track record of the Tigers usually giving Inge what he has wanted in the past. I am also assuming that Martinez is out of the equation permanently defensively, and will just let his bat do the talking for the next 3 years.
Who is the backup catcher going to be then?
Popular opinion from visiting other blogs, message boards, and just talking to fans in general, seems to be that Ryan Doumit of Pittsburgh is everyone’s favorite. Doumit would be a luxury as a backup catcher, because he can hit a little bit. I believe he is going to get a starting opportunity somewhere though, so I think this one is just a pipe dream, albeit a pleasant one. A player like Doumit isn’t going to look to be a backup somewhere. Plus, Doumit would cost Detroit quite a bit more than they need to spend on a 40 game player when a solution is staring them in the face already.
His name is Bryan Holaday.
For those not familiar with Holaday, he is a catcher that played this past season in AA Erie for the Tigers organization. Holaday is not great shakes with a stick in his hand, and I am understating that greatly, he is a pretty bad hitter. He can defend at a high level though. Make no mistake, Holaday would struggle to hit .200 in the major leagues. He does possess the ability to manage a game, block balls, and limit an opponents running game. In effect, he does the main things a backup catcher needs to do.
If Tigers fans were to think in terms of a backup catcher being what I just laid out in the previous paragraph, we might have a different perspective on Gerald Laird. The problem with Laird here was, he was our starter. His offensive contribution is fine for 40 games, especially if the rest of the offense is good enough to cover up for it, and your glove and handling of a pitching staff is good. It just wasn’t good enough to cover up for his terrible offense for a guy averaging over 100 starts per year when he was in Detroit.
The Tigers front office underestimated the impact that the lack of rest would have on Avila in 2011. I don’t see them making the same mistake in 2012. Someone will be helping Alex. I may not really long for the days of when Gerald Laird was donning the tools of ignorance in Detroit, but I’m sure there were times when Alex Avila wished he was there for help. The Tigers couldn’t have predicted Victor Martinez would be completely unable to catch because of his knees, but there certainly was a somewhat flippant attitude in getting Avila rest. Jim Leyland may have talked about it, but they didn’t actually do anything to rectify it.
The Tigers don’t need another catcher that is expensive, or a guy that is even capable of starting. They just need a reasonable facsimile of Gerald Laird, or maybe even the man himself.