|Why George Kottaras is Boston’s Backup Catcher||03.18.09 at 3:16 pm ET|
Brad Penny threw at the Red Sox’ minor-league complex today, showing good arm strength (he touched 95 m.p.h. on multiple occasions) in a three-inning outing in which he allowed a run on just one hit (a double) and an error while striking out four. After his outing, Red Sox G.M. Theo Epstein spoke about the decision to release Josh Bard and anoint George Kottaras the likely backup catcher to starter Jason Varitek.
Epstein praised the work done by Kottaras behind the plate this spring, suggesting that the young catcher had shown both good hands and had been throwing well throughout this spring training. The 25-year-old worked with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on Saturday and showed little discomfort working with the pitcher.
“(Kottaras) looked comfortable catching Wake the other day, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because he’s got good hands and he’s been very comfortable catching Zink in the minor leagues,” said Epstein. “He and Dusty have been throwing well. Jason has been throwing really well, too. That was really the biggest issue now—(Kottaras’) throwing.”
While Bard had been receiving well — in particular, Epstein suggested that he did a better job of catching Wakefield’s knuckleball than he had in his first brief tour with the Sox in 2006 — his actions behind the plate were not quick. Other teams had been running with relative impunity on him this spring, whether Wakefield (whose signature pitch makes it difficult to control the running game) was on the mound or not. The Sox hope to give Varitek more rest this year than in seasons past, and so the issue of shutting down other teams on the bases with the rest of the staff seemed of even greater concern than it might have been previously.
Offensively, Kottaras had an interesting mix of power and patience at Triple-A Pawtucket last year. He hit .243 but with a .348 OBP and .456 slugging mark, as well as 22 homers in just 395 at-bats.
“He’s got a strong throwing arm. He’s got really good hands,” Epstein continued. “He’s got some life in his bat. He’s got some knowledge of the strike zone. He’s not going to hit for a really high average, but between his walks and his power he still manages to bring something to the table offensively.”
As a left-handed hitter, he provides a better theoretical complement to Varitek, since Varitek’s left-handed stroke is not as strong as his right-handed one (something that is also true for the switch-hitting Bard). But Epstein cautioned that such a consideration was not meaningful in and of itself.
“He has the potential to be a nice complement to Jason as a left-handed bat,” said Epstein. “(But) that in and of itself doesn’t mean anything. He’s got to go play well.”
The release of Bard does nothing to change the Sox’ outlook regarding the catching market. The team continues to examine the market for a potential successor to Varitek, but there is, according to Epstein, nothing that the team is looking to do in the immediate future.
“We’ve been saying all along that we’re happy with the young guys,” said Epstein. “Maybe this move will help emphasize it a little more. We’re not in any active talks. There’s nothing imminent at all. For now, we’re going to address this internally. Sure, someone that we think can be a real upgrade as a No. 1 catcher when Jason’s career comes to an end, we’ll always be on the lookout for that guy. But we’re happy with what we have internally right now.”
By releasing Bard this morning, the team freed more time for Kottaras to work with Wakefield, and for both Kottaras and Dusty Brown to work with the rest of the pitching staff.
Bard had signed a $1.6 million non-guaranteed contract with the Sox in December. As such, by releasing him this morning, the team is only on the hook for 30 days of termination pay ($262,295). While Kottaras has caught Bard just once this spring, the Sox still felt comfortable with the move. The front-office did not seek Wakefield’s feedback on this specific course of action, though they have gotten his assessments of the catching situation throughout the spring.
“We get (Wakefield’s) feedback all the time, but we’re paid to make these decisions,” said Epstein. “It’s tough to let a guy go who is a good person and doing his best. (Bard) has had a good career but we felt that this was the best move,the right fit for the organization at this time.”
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