Rangers rebuff interest in Laird

Rangers rebuff interest in Laird

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers are getting interest from other teams in catcher Gerald Laird, but they aren't inclined to discuss him right now.

Teams just aren't eager to trade their Opening Day catcher in the middle of Spring Training.

"We don't turn a deaf ear to anything, but we're not initiating any conversations," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.

Laird has not been given anything yet, but it's been understood that the job is his to lose and he has done nothing to do that. Instead all indications are pointing toward him being behind the plate on March 31 against the Seattle Mariners.

The bigger intrigue surrounding the Rangers catching situation appears to be what to do with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the 22-year-old switch-hitter who is not likely to unseat Laird.

Two schools of thought get batted back and forth, and one is having Saltalamacchia in the same lineup against Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard. Club officials suggest it's a "reasonable" possibility.

The Rangers are mulling the idea of having both on the team because it's still unclear who is going to be their right-handed designated hitter. This scenario has Laird catching four or five times a week and Saltalamacchia catching the remainder. Saltalamacchia would also be the designated hitter on days the Rangers sit Frank Catalanotto when there's a left-hander on the mound.

"We really haven't gotten to that point yet, but it could be a good option," Daniels said.

The Rangers are currently considering several different players for that right-handed-hitting DH job, including Kevin Mench, Jason Botts, Nelson Cruz and Edgardo Alfonzo. Using Saltalamacchia as the designated hitter could allow the Rangers to use that last spot on the bench for another type of player, perhaps someone who can give them some speed.

That scenario is not a given. The other school of thought is having Saltalamacchia go back to Triple-A Oklahoma and continue to work on his craft. That would leave Laird as the starter and Adam Melhuse as the backup.

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Scouts who watch Saltalamacchia say he is rough defensively. Defense is a priority, but that's not the only concern. Saltalamacchia, despite being a switch-hitter, batted just .226 against left-handed pitchers last year. That's not ideal for a designated hitter, especially when the Rangers have a veteran right-handed hitter like Mench as an option.

Either way, unless somebody overwhelms the Rangers with an offer, Laird appears to be with the Rangers to stay.

"He has done really well," manager Ron Washington said. "He is more confident working with the pitchers and communicating with them. He's done a great job defensively and throwing the ball. The more you learn, the better you can be, and you can always learn from what we did last year."

That includes the manager. He and Laird didn't always see eye-to-eye last year on the way to handle the pitching staff. Washington is backing off this year. Matt Walbeck was hired as third-base coach and catching instructor, and Washington leaves it with him.

"I'm not messing with Gerald," Washington said. "I'm letting Gerald do his thing and letting Matt work with him. If I see something, I go through Matt."

Laird wasn't particularly thrilled coming into camp having to win a job after being the Rangers' starting catcher for most of last season. But the Rangers seem pleased that he has been willing to meet the challenge. He at least knew from Washington that the job was his to lose coming into Spring Training.

"He just basically told me to go out and play and everything will work out," Laird said. "He said he didn't want to come in here with any added pressure, everybody knows I can catch and hit. That's what he told me, and that's basically what I'm doing.

"I realize Salty is a great talent with a really bright future. You never know what's going to happen, but when you trade a guy like Mark Teixeira, you have to get great talent in return. I just go about my business. It's been a good spring working with the pitchers and I feel good behind the plate."

Laird's experience and defensive abilities gave him the edge over Saltalamacchia coming into camp. Throwing is only one part of it, but Laird has thrown out 40.2 percent of attempted basestealers over the past five years, the second-highest mark in the Majors among catchers who have played in at least 250 games.

"He's got a great arm, quick release and athleticism behind the plate," Walbeck said. "He's able to pick balls, make sidearm throws, throw behind the runner -- stuff you can't teach."

Saltalamacchia isn't quite as accomplished as Laird, but he is at least improved to the point where keeping him on the Major League roster has become a viable option.

"Salty is a lot better receiving and blocking balls than I expected," Walbeck said. "His pitch calling and working with pitchers has been good. His throwing is not where it needs to be. We're working on his footwork, but he needs more opportunities to throw. He's only had a few chances."

That may suggest he is better off playing every day at Triple-A. Either way, teams calling and asking about Laird ought to expect "No" for an answer.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.