Josh Bard’s second stint with the Red Sox was even briefer than his first.
The Red Sox announced this morning that they have placed the 30-year old catcher on unconditional release waivers. General manager Theo Epstein indicated that Bard’s departure means that George Kottaras — a 25-year-old lefthanded-hitter with power who is out of minor league options — will probably make the Opening Day roster and catch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on a regular basis.
“Our young catchers are doing a really good job in camp,” said general manager Theo Epstein, who noted that Bard was informed of the decision at 10 a.m. this morning. “George in particular did a nice job with Wakefield the other night. We like the way George is throwing. He’s throwing well. Once he showed he could handle Wakefield we decided that is the direction we’re going.”
Epstein said it was difficult to let Bard go but that Kotteras was the best fit. There is also somewhat of a financial factor to the move. Bard signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox worth $1.7 million in late December, with a team option for a second year. But his contract was not guaranteed, and by releasing him now the Red Sox are obligated to pay only one-sixth ($283,333) of his 2009 salary.
He would have been guaranteed one-fifth of his salary ($340,000) had he remained with the club until tomorrow, and the full amount would have become guaranteed had he been on the Opening Day roster.
“[It’s] his job to lose right now,” Epstein said of Kottaras. “We hope he continues to do a nice job and Dusty Brown’s having a good camp as well. This’ll get them some more time. We had to make this move now because we need George and Wake to work together and we need to make sure we know what we have, and prepare for the season.”
Bard first came to Boston in 2006 as part of the trade that also brought outfielder Coco Crisp from the Cleveland Indians. He served as a backup to Jason Varitek and played seven games for the Sox, but struggled catching Wakefield’s knuckleball.
On May 1, before a Wakefield start against the Yankees, Bard was traded to the Padres along with righthanded reliever Cla Meredith in exchange for Doug Mirabelli, Wakefield’s longtime catcher.
Mirabelli remained with the Sox until last spring, when he met a fate similar to Bard’s: He was released last March 13 in favor of Kevin Cash. Cash held the backup job last season — usually as Wakefield’s catcher — but signed with the Yankees in the offseason.
Bard hit just .202 in 57 games for the Padres last season while battling ankle problems, but he was productive in two previous seasons in San Diego. In 2006, he hit .338 with nine homers and 40 RBIs in 231 at-bats, and hit .285 with five homers and 51 RBIs in 389 at-bats in 2007.
Bard batted .462 with six hits in 13 at-bats this spring, with a home run and four RBIs. With catching at premium, it’s probable that he will catch on elsewhere.
Kottaras is hitting .286 with one home run in 14 at-bats this spring. He hit .243 with 22 home runs in 395 at-bats last year at Pawtucket.