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Laird's move leaves Tigers looking for backup

DETROIT -- The Tigers let catcher Gerald Laird check out the open market as a free agent in search of more playing time and a better contract. He found it in Atlanta.

Now, after Laird reached an agreement Thursday on a two-year deal with the Braves, the Tigers have to decide if their search for his replacement stays in-house or takes them to the market.

If it's a pure backup the Tigers want, at least in the short term, Bryan Holaday might be their guy. Detroit spent a sixth-round Draft pick in 2010 to grab the TCU product and Johnny Bench Award winner for best college catcher, believing his defensive skills and ability to work with pitchers could get him to the big leagues.

He received his first chance in June while Alex Avila and Laird were both banged up, and held up well in a brief stretch before returning as a September callup and emergency backstop.

"We do feel comfortable with Bryan Holaday as a guy that can step in and be a backup catcher," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in his end-of-season wrapup press conference a few weeks ago.

Dombrowski reiterated that statement when reached Thursday, but didn't rule out bringing in another catcher.

"At this time, he would be our backup," Dombrowski wrote in an email to, "and we would be happy with him performing that role for us. However, we will also continue to keep our options open."

Those options could be vastly different if the Tigers are looking for somebody to do more than simply back up Avila.

Part of what made Laird so valuable in Detroit this past season, beyond offensive production that went well beyond his career norms, was that he handled enough of a workload to save some wear and tear from Avila over the second half of the season. He essentially became the smaller half of a platoon behind the plate, taking many of the starts against left-handed pitchers. Considering Avila's 15-for-85 performance against lefties this year, that was no small bonus.

Whether Holaday can handle that role is a fair question. He hit left-handers well at Triple-A Toledo, going 18-for-58 (.310) with seven extra-base hits, but the at-bats were clearly limited. His overall average dropped as the season wore on, including a .190 clip and .561 OPS after the All-Star break.

It was at exactly this time of last offseason that the Tigers brought Laird back with a one-year, $1 million contract. With Laird and Dioner Navarro both agreeing to terms on contracts Thursday with the Braves and Cubs, respectively, the backup catcher appears to be moving at the same time.

Detroit Tigers, Alex Avila, Bryan Holaday, Gerald Laird