The release of Josh Bard hit Boston by storm yesterday. While the release of a backup catcher may not register much in other cities, it’s very important here; both for our rabid intake of baseball and the myriad implications for Jason Varitek’s role and the future of catching in Boston.

Let’s take a look at Bard first and try to figure out why he was cut.

Bard, as we all know, was acquired from the Cleveland Indians in the Coco Crisp trade and fared very poorly before being shipped off to San Diego in a desperation move for Doug Mirabelli. In fact, Theo considers this his worst trade. Regardless, the acquisition of Mirabelli paid dividends in 2007 as the club captured a ring.

While the club was busy winning a World Series,  Bard turned in two solid years as a Padre before struggling in 2008 due to injury. His wOBA in 2006 was .398, followed up by a .335 before sinking to a .249 in 2008.

Odds are he will rebound quite nicely.

So why was he cut then?

Two choices remain:

  • The club wanted to be off the hook for roughly his $1 million remaining salary. If the club felt that strongly he could contribute, as a big market club, it is unlikely this was a motivating factor.
  • The club felt that losing George Kottaras was too much of a risk.

The last point is valid only if it is considered that “Kotty” would have cleared waivers. Five out of six scouts considered it likely that Kottaras would clear waivers last month.  Looking at The Bottom Line, one sees that the reason Bard was cut certainly can’t be offense. He hit .429/.529/.756 while Kottaras (in the same number of at-bats, 14) hit .286/.375/.500.

Kottaras has long been considered a defensive liability, but as is the case with catchers as they mature, defense has improved. With this plus Kottaras’ experience catching Charlie Zink in Triple-A, he has proved particularly adept at catching Wakefield.

By default, the 25-year old is currently the backup catcher, and given that he hit .243/.348/.456 in Triple-A, the promise is there that he can justify the return that he acquired on David Wells in 2006.

Want proof? In 2005, Kelly Shoppach’s last year as a member of the Boston organization, he hit .253/.352/.507 for the PawSox before a cup of coffee with the Red Sox. Fast forward three years later, and he’s ending up at .261/.348/.517 as the Indians’ (or another team’s) catcher of the future.

Not that that will happen to Kottaras, but the point here is that while catchers take longer to develop, they still do develop.

Theo Epstein has always placed a focus on developing from within — even though he doesn’t hesitate to trade those that develop within — and when it comes down to Bard and Kottaras as a backup, Theo may not have been comfortable with retaining Bard.  In addition, Bard was not very good in the drop contest; he had four in 750 chances last I heard on Feburary 23.

Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projects Kottaras to hit a 50 percent median of .217/.306/.376. Pretty bad… until you consider that Kevin Cash hit .225/.309/.338… and “Dougle Goes Deep” hit .202/.278/.360 in 2007. So that would be an… upgrade.

Let’s step back and consider that again. Kottaras’ 50 percent PECOTA projection is an… upgrade. Now let’s look at his 90 percent. .240/.337/.450. Given what we just learned… yes please!

Out of the five projection systems commonly used (Bill James, CHONE, Marcel, Oliver and ZIPS) the lowest proctions are: .235 (T-CHONE, Oliver)/..311 (Oliver)/.387 (CHONE) and the highest ..272 (Marcel)/.343 (Marcel)/.430 (Bill James).

Kind of hard to dispute that Kottaras wouldn’t be at least the same as the other catchers.

So what does the release of Josh Bard mean?

Sorry to all those conspiracy theorists out there, but it means that the Sox value George Kottaras more… not because they’re on the cusp of a blockbuster trade like Miguel Montero or Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Am I discounting those moves? No. But I am bursting your bubble that this release is a predication of that.

_* First two links sponsored by DocSports._