You Heard It Here…First?: Josh Bard

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Josh Bard, originally uploaded by ewen and donabel.

For the first time in recorded history, you may actually have heard it here first. The Josh Bard news, that is.

Back on December 4th, I wrote this:

Last I checked, Josh Bard – the catcher we shipped to San Diego after he proved unable to catch Wake – is available. Probably because in 57 games with the Friars, he put up an abysmal .202/.235/.333 line. Not a typo: he really was a .569 OPS player. That said, ‘07 saw him put up a .285/.364/.404 in a tough hitters’ park, and Bill James’ ‘09 forecast is .268/.342/.395. Which may not seem like much, until you remember that Tek’s 08 line was .220/.313/.359. And that Tek’s 09 projection is .238/.334/392. And that Bard is six years younger than Varitek.

Twenty-five days later Sean McAdam has this news for us:

Moving to improve their depth on the mound and behind the plate, the Red Sox have agreements in place with right-hander Brad Penny and catcher Josh Bard, according to an industry source.

I’ll get to the Penny news later – tomorrow if I’m not too lazy – but I’ll be honest: I like the Bard signing.

True, Bard is no Martin, Mauer, or McCann. He’s not even a Flying Molina Brother (at least of the Bengie variety). But there are several things arguing in this deal’s favor, most notably the fact that it’s short money and short term, and doesn’t cost us prospects. Our risk, therefore, is minimized and our flexibility to either deal for or develop a long term solution is preserved.

We’re buying low on Bard because, as mentioned, he had an abysmal ’08. Still, he’s only a year removed from this PECOTA commentary:

After Bard took to being knuckleballer Tim Wakefield`s personal catcher like a duck takes to being repeatedly poked with a fork, the Red Sox panicked and flipped him to San Diego for his predecessor, Doug Mirabelli. They never could have anticipated he`d hit like he did in San Diego, just as there`s no reason for the Padres to expect him to do it again. Still, Bard`s a true switch-hitter, solid against both righties and lefties, and PECOTA expects him to maintain his new-found plate discipline, so he`ll still be one of the better players at his position. Although properly considered the better-throwing alternative to Mike Piazza on last year`s Pads, Bard didn`t surpass him by much. Throwing out only 18 percent of opposing baserunners isn`t very special, but, in Bard`s defense, he`s done better before; perhaps Pads pitchers need to work on holding runners as much as their catchers need to work on throwing.

And – remember, he’s six years younger than Tek – the projections all look ok.

AVG OBP SLG OPS
Bill James .268 .337 .392 .729
CHONE .254 .338 .369 .707
Marcel .266 .342 .395 .737

Like I said: no Mauer. But compared to Tek’s .672 OPS last season, even CHONE’s pessimistic forecast looks acceptable.

And speaking of Tek, I have to think this pretty much means he’s not back. Not just because McAdam says that the Sox “have all but given up on re-signing” him, but because of the Wakefield factor.

Initial speculation considered the possibility of Bard backing up a resigned Varitek, but while I suppose that’s not impossible, haven’t we tried that before? That would leave us with two catchers that have more or less demonstrated that they cannot catch one of the pitchers we’re throwing every five days.

From this signing, then, I conclude not that Bard will be the unchallenged starter, but that the second catcher will be someone who can catch Timmeh – i.e. not Varitek.

Could it be Kottaras, perhaps? Evan over at Fire Brand had a nice piece looking at this a couple of days ago and built a fairly credible case that Kottaras could be a bigger factor than we might have expected in the catching equation. The signing of Bard, if anything, improves his chances, as he’s now one of the few catchers in the organization with experience catching a knuckleball (in case you missed it, the Yankees signed Cash away from us).

Is a Bard/Kottaras tandem the long term solution to our catching needs? Obviously not. But could it provide us with a credible stop gap until such time as we can find one? Seems at least possible. If both hit only to their James projected OPS, in fact, they would have placed 6th and 7th respectively amongst qualifying catchers last season – such is the state of big league catching these days.

How you deploy them could ultimately be determined by their play, as well as the pitchers’ comfort level with each. If you weight his experience, and think Bard is more the .285/.364/.404 player from ’07 than the .569 OPS of ’08, you could start him four days a week and designate Kottaras as Wake’s caddy.

But given that James projects more offense from the rookie than the vet – an anticipated .765 OPS to Bard’s .729 – it might be wiser to platoon them to some extent. Which could work nicely, because while Bard switch hits, his lifetime OPS is eighty points higher against lefties than righties (.785 to .705). Kottaras, meanwhile, hits from the lefthand side, and his splits show it: career, his OPS is 46 points better vs righties than lefties (.808 to .762).

Are Bard and Kottaras the tandem for ’09? Hell, I don’t know. The point here is that if they are, we might not be in terrible shape.

Catching Up

By now, you’ve all probably seen that the good folks over at Baseball America rated our farm system second to Tampa’s stellar stable. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice. And while my enthusiasm is tempered by the realization that should the Santana trade be completed we’d slide back south of 10th, it’s still an achievement worth recognizing and appreciating.

In looking over the list of our Top 30 Prospects, however, it’s a stark reminder that when it comes to the catching position, we’re not exactly stacked. Pitching, we have. Fortunately. And though we’re a bit light in the power department (what with Anderson maturing slowly and picks like Jason Place not having panned out yet), we’ve got credible candidates in both the outfield (Ellsbury, Kalish, Moss, etc) and infield (Anderson, Lowrie, Tejeda, etc).

Then there’s the catching spot.

As far as I can tell, that’s going to be a bit of a problem. An untimely one, as well, with both the presumed current catching tandem of Mirabelli and Tek up for free agency after this year.

From the sounds of it, a reupping of Tek at $10M+ per could be in the works, and Mirabelli’s future – as always – is in the hands of one Timothy Wakefield.

Should they both depart, however, this is what we have on hand:

  • Dusty Brown:
    Known primarily for his defense, Brown showed enough offense last season in Portland to justify a spot on the 40 man. True, .268/.344/.453 in 250 AA AB’s for a 2000 draftee isn’t exactly lighting it up, but the Sox seem enthused about his abilities behind the dish. Farm director Mike Hazen said of Brown, “We really like his ability behind the plate. There’s just not a lot of good catching across baseball. We just feel like Dusty is a good catcher.” A bit of a back-handed compliment, perhaps, but with the state of catching generally and our organization specifically, we’ll have to take what we can get.
  • George Kottaras:
    The catching prospect sent over by San Diego in return for a month or two of David Wells, seems to have hit a bit of a wall and dropped right off of the Top 30 list this year. A defensive work-in-progress generally better known for his offense – his on base skills in particular, Kottaras posted .241/.316./.408 line at Pawtucket last year. Not awful, particularly for a catcher, but given his defensive lack of excellence, not particularly reassuring either. One thing worth noting: Kottaras’ was weighed down partially by a poor start – .196/.272/.304 in the first half – but rebounded nicely with a .318/.389/.582 line in the second.
  • Mark Wagner:
    The owner of the 20th spot in on this year’s Top 30 list, has generally been rated by John Sickels as a Grade C prospect. For context: Sickels doesn’t give out D’s or F’s. In Wagner’s defense, however, he’s still young and has been solid since turning pro, handing in a cumulative .291/.378/.460 in 3 minor league seasons. True, one of those seasons was at the launching pad that is Lancaster, but a .939 OPS at any level is still an accomplishment (Manny’s ’07 number? .881). Even better? Offense isn’t his only trick, as he BA tabbed him as our Best Defensive Catcher.

What if we don’t retain Tek? None of the kids are projected to be ready in ’09, so we’d probably have to go the free agent route. Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors has suggested Kenji Johjima as a potential target, but I was surprised to discover that he gave up a couple of homers and better than 40 points of OBP to our current backstop. Surprised is precisely what I should have been, however, given Joe-mama’s performance against us: .375/.464/.708. David Ortiz, in other words.

Outside of Johjima, I’m not sure what the options are. But ultimately I think the Sox will look to lock up Tek, as the Yankees did with Posada, because Hazen’s right: there just isn’t much catching around.