When the Atlanta Braves came to Lakeland on Wednesday to face the Detroit Tigers for the second time this spring, they brought a familiar face: Gerald Laird, who spent his third nonconsecutive season with the Tigers backing up Alex Avila in 2012.
“It was tough to leave,” Laird told The Detroit News after the Braves’ spring opener against Detroit last week. “I had a blast playing there, but they weren’t going to go two with me—just another one-year contract. I just couldn’t do that. I felt I earned a two.”
Not only did Laird get his two years from Frank Wren, general manager of the Braves, but he also stands a good chance to start Opening Day for the club with Brian McCann hurt. All things considered, it was probably a good move for both parties to separate, the Tigers balking at Laird’s demands and opting for the cheaper Brayan Pena at backup catcher. But Laird served us well last year and seems to have been forgotten by fans far too easily.
From him, the Tigers received far better play than expected from a backup catcher. He hit for a slash line of .282/.337/.374 in 63 games and even added a pair of home runs.
“He was really great for us last year,” Avila told MLB.com of Laird’s contributions. “He’s a big reason why we were able to get to the playoffs. When I went down with injuries, he stepped in and did a really good job.”
When Avila suffered a hamstring strain in June, Laird filled in to go 12-for-39 (.308) and help lead the team to an 8-5 stretch. Over the last nine games of the season, with Avila rattled by a concussion, Laird went 11-for-30 (.367) to help the Tigers into the postseason. He also started for Detroit in three playoff wins. At one point in the season, he quietly put together an amazing stretch where he saw 143 pitches and whiffed only twice.
Now, Pena has quietly taken his place. He’s more than two years younger and a couple million dollars easier on the wallet. Further, considering the last four seasons as a whole, Pena has been the better hitter in admittedly lesser playing time, going 190-for-757 (.251) compared to Laird’s 220-for-952 (.231). Pena isn’t known for his defense, but caught 30% of base stealers over the last two seasons compared to 31% for Laird.
The new guy could easily end up being better than Laird would have been this year. Laird’s 2012, though, was fantastic, and it seems to me to have been largely ignored. It may not have been enough to earn two more guaranteed years in Detroit, but it’s enough to get a hat tip and a few hundred words from yours truly.