The Braves hope that catcher Gerald Laird keeps a personal streak alive by playing in a third consecutive World Series in 2013.
Five days after losing backup catcher David Ross to the Red Sox, the Braves replaced him with free agent Laird, who played for 2012 AL champion Detroit and 2011 World Series champion St. Louis.
Laird, who turned 33 on Tuesday, got a two-year, $3 million deal that includes incentives worth up to $750,000 based on number of games started.
The right-handed hitter made $1 million in 2012, when he had his best season in four years. He hit .282 with two home runs, a .337 on-base percentage and .374 slugging percentage in 191 plate appearances, and excelled during a June stretch when Tigers catcher Alex Avila was hurt.
That was an important factor for the Braves, who will need Laird to play on a regular basis in April as starting catcher Brian McCann continues his rehabilitation from Oct. 16 shoulder surgery. McCann faces an expected six-month recovery and could miss most or all of the season’s first month, though the Braves hope it’s closer to two weeks.
“Gerald gives us a proven major league veteran behind the plate,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “He was high on our list of off-season goals and we are fortunate to acquire a catcher with his level of experience, not only in the regular season, but also in the postseason.”
Laird could earn up to a $250,000 in bonuses in 2013 and up to $500,000 in 2014 based on starts. He would get bonuses of $50,000 each for starting 80, 90, 100, 110 and 120 games in 2013, and $100,000 each for meeting those standards in 2014.
The Braves wanted to re-sign Ross, but Boston lured him away with a two-year, $6.2 million contract, nearly doubling the 36-year-old veteran’s salary from his four seasons in Atlanta. He played on consecutive two-year contracts with the Braves, who were only willing to go one year this time due to his age.
Ross agreed to terms with the Red Sox on Saturday and the deal was announced Wednesday after he passed a physical.
In Laird, the Braves believe they signed the best all-around replacement among available veteran backups. During an 11-game stretch June 8-20, he made 10 starts and hit .306 (11-for-36) with a .375 OBP, and the Tigers were 7-3 in his 10 starts during that period. He also started six out of 12 games in a September stretch in the pennant race, hitting .364.
Laird played in two games in each of the Tigers’ three postseason series this year and went a combined 1-for-20 at the plate. Detroit was swept by San Francisco in the World Series.
The California native has thrown out 27 percent of runners attempting to steal over the past three seasons and 35 percent for his career, but Laird’s success rate in 2012 slipped to 19.2 percent (10-for-42).
A .244 career hitter with a .303 OBP, he has 37 homers and 215 RBIs in 698 games over 10 seasons with Texas, St. Louis and Detroit. After playing his first six seasons with the Rangers, Laird spent two years with the Tigers and one with the Cardinals before returning to Detroit on a one-year, $1 million contract.
Laird has played more than 95 games only twice in his career – 125 in 2007 and 135 in 2009. He hit .224 with career-highs nine homers and 47 RBIs in 448 plate appearances in 2007, and hit .225 with two homers and a .306 OBP in a career-high 413 plate appearances in 2009. Laird also threw out 40 of 99 runners attempting to steal in ‘09.
In his only season in the National League, he hit .232 with one homer and 12 RBIs in 37 games for the Cardinals in 2011, and played in four postseason games (0-for-1).
His career righty/lefty batting splits are fairly even — .255 with a .718 OPS and 14 homers in 691 at-bats vs. lefty-handers; .239 with a .638 OPS and 24 homers in 1581 ABs vs. righties. But in 2012, he hit .204 (20-for-98) against lefties and .382 (29-for-76) vs. right-handers.