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Winter Meetings Coverage: Gerald Laird trade

Today, MLB’s winter meetings kick off in Las Vegas, and with that, the off-season kicks into high gear. We’ll see a bunch of trades, some free agent signings, and a lot of rumors floating around in the next few days. Here at FanGraphs, we’re going to team up to bring you nearly instant analysis of the transactions, breaking them down as they happen. If there’s a lull, we’ll still be pushing out our regular content, but expect heavy coverage of all the moves over the next few days.

Trade number one, according to Ken Rosenthal, is Gerald Laird going from Texas to Detroit to become the Tigers new starting catcher. Texas clearly needed to move Laird due to their logjam behind the plate, and the Tigers needed a backstop, so this was a good fit between the two teams. But what should Detroit expect from Laird?

Inconsistency is probably the best expectation. Laird’s had an up and down career, where he went from very good in 2006 to miserable in 2007 before bouncing back to be okay in 2008. His skills haven’t changed much, but he’s gotten drastically different results from his balls in play over the last three years: a .345 BABIP in 2006, a .278 mark in 2007, and a .315 mark in 2008. His career BABIP is .310, just a bit above average, so both ’06 and ’07 stand out as random variance. He’s not a .296 or .224 hitter.

For 2009, Marcel has him at .259/.313/.398 for a .310 wOBA, but remember, Marcel doesn’t do park adjustments, so it doesn’t know that Texas is a fun place to hit. We need to knock that projection down to account for the lack of 81 home games in Arlington, so let’s call Laird a .300 wOBA guy for next year.

A .300 wOBA would make Laird worth about 15 runs less than an average hitter over 500 PA, but of course, catchers don’t hit like average hitters, so the +12.5 run positional adjustment covers almost all of that, and leave’s Laird as a -2.5 run offensive player. A bit below average for his position, basically.

Catcher defense is extremely hard to measure as a whole, but we can measure parts, such as blocking balls in the dirt and controlling the running game. Laird is above average at those by about five runs, so we’ll call his defensive value +5, admitting that there’s a huge part of his job that we just can’t measure yet.

-2.5 offense + 5 defense = +2.5 runs compared to a league average catcher. That makes Laird something like a +2 to +2.5 win player, or a guy who should command something like $10 to $12 million per season on the open market. He’s arbitration eligible, however, and unlikely to get more than $3 or $4 million in salary for 2009. That makes Laird a pretty huge bargain.

Detroit did a nice job of identifying Laird as a guy who could help them. Marc will be around to tell you about the prospects they’re sending to Texas, but I’d say this move gets a thumbs up for the Tigers.