Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rangers C Gerald Laird Out of Doghouse at Last

When he was the property of the Oakland Athletics -- where he owned a .300 batting average in the minors -- catcher Gerald Laird was so prized that he was cast as the lynchpin in a trade with the Rangers for the even more highly valued 1B Carlos Pena.

Pena has yet to fulfill the promise forseen for him, and perhaps never will. But at 27, Laird -- Oakland's 1998 second round pick -- may finally have won his chance to shine after hitting .296 in 245 at-bats last season in the shadow of Rod Barajas.

Two years after becoming the property of Texas in the 2002 trade, Laird found himself in manager Bucky Showalter's doghouse for refusing to play winter ball overseas, But now Showalter is in Cleveland and Barajas is in Philadelphia,

Laird will be given a full-time chance this spring to demonstrate his skills at backstop (with potential to throw out runners at a 50 percent clip) and hit for average and occasional power. Having formerly played third base and shortstop in the Oakland system, he also has decent footwork.

Laird murders left-handed pitchers. Full-time exhibition play beginning next March will allow him to show he can hold his own against righties, whom he scarcely saw under Showalter's tutelage. The starter's job should become Laird's to lose.