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Red Sox close to bringing back Bard

Red Sox close to bringing back Bard

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BOSTON -- Though Jason Varitek's status remains in limbo, the Red Sox have established some forward momentum with regard to their catching situation for 2009, with free agent Josh Bard apparently poised for a return to Boston.

Bard was the Red Sox's backup catcher for the first month of the 2006 season, but was traded on May 1 after struggling mightily to handle the perplexing knuckleball of Tim Wakefield.

Though Wakefield is set to return in 2009, it is doubtful Bard will be asked to handle him again.

The Boston Globe and Boston Herald reported that Bard is close to signing a one-year, non-guaranteed contract for $1.6 million that would include a club option. The deal is pending a physical.

The Red Sox's catching situation is in a state of transition with Varitek -- the starter since 1999 and team captain the past four seasons -- a free agent. Kevin Cash, last year's backup, is headed to the Yankees.

Varitek might still return, as the Red Sox have remained in contact with his agent, Scott Boras.

If Varitek does re-sign, he might be asked to catch Wakefield. Though he has hardly caught Wakefield over the last seven seasons, Varitek did handle the knuckleballer quite frequently from 1998-2000.

Bard blossomed into a solid hitter for a couple of seasons after the Red Sox traded him to the Padres in 2006 for Doug Mirabelli. In '06, Bard hit .338 with nine homers in 231 at-bats for San Diego. The following year, the switch-hitter posted a .285 average with five homers and 51 RBIs.

But Bard struggled both with injuries (ankle, triceps) and effectiveness (.202 average in 57 games) in 2008.

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After the 2006 season, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein admitted that he made a mistake in trading Bard and reliever Cla Meredith to the Padres for the aging Mirabelli. Epstein called the deal short-sighted.

A switch-hitter, Bard is 30 years old. He is a .265 hitter in 431 career games.

Bard originally came to Boston from the Indians along with Coco Crisp in a deal that sent Kelly Shoppach, Guillermo Mota and Andy Marte to Cleveland.

Though Bard's initial stint in Boston was short, he quickly won respect in the clubhouse and in the eyes of manager Terry Francona for the way he handled himself during a tough situation.

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

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