Reports that Boston is signing Josh Bard have bumped past the rumor phase. The Red Sox, it seems, have a catcher.
Thing is, what we've got is a backup catcher. There's more work to be done.
Could the Bard signing be a sign that the Sox really are planning to sort things out with Boras, and bring back Jason Varitek? Might this deal be the pointer to what the team is planning down the stretch?
Bard isn't a starter. But neither is Bard the sort of catcher you want to pair with some rookie kid just learning the ropes. That would give you a pair of backups, not a catching solution.
We already know Bard can't catch Wake, that his defense is quite a bit weaker than 'Tek's across the board, and that in '08 his offense dropped to levels that made 'Tek's offensive struggles look like a triumph. But in previous seasons, Bard has had much stronger offense, and he just may get it back again. If he does, he makes a nice sub late in games for a starting catcher who's struggling offensively. And a catcher like that makes a pretty logical choice if, ultimately, half his role is "placeholder."
Word is, Bard isintended for the role of backup. But backing whom? A Bard-Salty or Bard-Teagarden combo would make no sense for Boston. Both Texas prospects have a long way to go in defense and would be no better off in next season's starting role than Bard. Even those who scoff at the importance of defense would have to shudder there. And for that defensive agony, the Red Sox would still pay an arm and both legs.
But what if the Red Sox have already decided the job will ultimately go to a prospect already in their system?
For that, they pay very little and give up no pitching. They only need the time to get there. They need someone to do the catching until the baby catcher of choice is ready to try life in the big leagues, a year from now or maybe two. That's exactly what the deal with Bard covers: one year, with an option. After that, the young guy can come in as backup, and a bit later still, take the reins for the starting role.
That scenario is hypothetical, but with a gap. Add 'Tek for two years, or two with an option, and the whole thing clicks.
Picture this: 'Tek holds the starting role in '09. If Tek's offensive struggles return, Bard can come in late in close games. If Bard can't recover his offense either, he's used Cash-style, and c'est la vie, but his record suggests better. 'Tek goes back to catching Wake, as he did his first few years with the team.
Meanwhile, the catching prospects in the system are developing and showing what they've got. In '10, we have the option of bringing one of them in as 'Tek's backup, or keeping the Varitek-Bard duo one more year. If the prospect is ready, he takes over for Bard in '10, working alongside Varitek, honing his skills. 'Tek does some serious mentoring while at the same time keeping Boston's pitching staff happy awhile longer. Then, in '11 or '12, the prospect takes over the starting role.
Nothing in that picture is far-fetched.
And the cost? Minimal.
In this scenario, we don't give up Buchholz, or Bowden, or Masterson. We don't give up much even in the way of salary, though that's just a bonus. We get to keep the Captain a while longer, doing what he does best to our pitching staff's delight. (If his offense recovers, so much the better, but a healthy Papi and Lowell alongside Pedroia and Youk and Bay can make up a lot of slack if not.) And we end up with a quality young catcher, ready for the job, and on the cheap.
We'd get a nice smooth transition, shifting the load over time instead of abruptly yanking the team's leader and tossing our whole rotation into the hands of a pair who combine to make a fraction 'Tek's defensive skill. We get time for Boston to see all the options and make choices carefully, not rushing the chosen prospect in before he's ready, and we get time for 'Tek to mentor that kid when he is ready, a thing that can't be overvalued.
Is this what Boston has in mind?