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.