Bard, Red Sox agree to one-year deal

Bard, Red Sox agree to one-year deal

BOSTON -- What has changed about Josh Bard since his ill-fated, one-month stint as Tim Wakefield's personal catcher back in 2006? Well, just about everything.

And that's why Bard is so thrilled to be back with the Red Sox for another crack at not just Wakefield, but the rest of the staff.

"I am extremely excited. I know that this time it's going to be different for a lot of different reasons," said Bard. "The most being, I feel like I'm a different person and a different player than I was the last time I was here."

Bard, a free agent, finalized a one-year contract with Boston on Friday that includes a one-year club option.

And this time, Bard doesn't plan on being a short-timer.

"Initially, I think coming to the Red Sox, I was hoping that I was going to be a good player," Bard said. "Falling flat on your face and going to San Diego and getting kind of thrown into the fire there and succeeding and playing well, now I know that I belong in this league. I think going into the situation with Tim, I think initially I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders every pitch that he threw, and if I missed one, the world was going to be over.

"I think that maturity comes and you understand that everybody misses knuckleballs every once in a while, and if you miss one, that's part of it. I think understanding that this time around will give me a lot better insight on how to do this."

Unlike his first encounter with the Red Sox, when Bard's sole duty was to handle the tantalizing offerings of Wakefield, there will be more playing time for the switch-hitter this time around.

Jason Varitek, the starting catcher for the Red Sox since 1999 and the team captain the past four years, remains a free agent.

If Varitek, 36, can't be retained, the Red Sox might package a younger catcher with the 30-year-old Bard, either from outside the organization or from the farm system. If Varitek does return, he is all but certain to get more rest than in past years. No matter what the scenario, Bard will factor significantly into the equation.

"I think [manager Terry Francona] was very up front about the fact that he's not going to put a number on it, and I think it comes down to, like any other team, the better you play, the more you're going to play," Bard said. "I know the opportunity is out there. When I looked at the opportunity to go to a World Series championship team and an opportunity to be hopefully more than a backup, it was something that I couldn't be excited enough about."

Before signing with Boston, Bard had a very candid discussion with Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and Francona about what went wrong the first time with Wakefield. During that first month of the 2006 season, Bard had 10 passed balls.

"They both said that coming out of camp, they felt like there wasn't a doubt in their mind that I'd be able to do it," Bard said. "Obviously, that didn't turn out to be the case. They kind of asked me to take them through what happened."

During that Spring Training, when Bard was in survival mode, trying to beat out Ken Huckaby and John Flaherty for the job, he did fine. But after he won the job, Bard felt as if he started to outthink himself.

"I caught him fine in Spring Training and then we had those couple of off-days before the game in Texas, and I think that people were trying to help me and they were trying to help me be a better player," Bard said, "but I think that it started to get into my head a little of, 'Why don't you watch some video of how Doug [Mirabelli] did it and maybe this will help you with some things.'"

"I think that in my immaturity, I think I tried to be somebody that I wasn't, and Doug obviously had done a great job catching Wake, but we're two totally different people. He was kind of a short-armed guy, a little stockier, I was long and lanky and was trying to let the ball get too deep and it kind of ate me up. This time around, I'm going to be aggressive and try to catch the baseball the way I would try to catch a normal pitch, and I'm going to do my best to do that and I feel confident that I'll get the job done."

Hot Stove

No financial terms of the deal were announced, but the Boston Globe reported on its Web site on Tuesday that the contract is worth $1.7 million.

The deal is non-guaranteed, but if the 30-year-old Bard does succeed in sticking with the Red Sox, incentives could bring the total up to $2.5 million.

Bard blossomed into a solid hitter for a couple of seasons after the Red Sox traded him to the Padres for Mirabelli. In 2006, 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.

The way Bard looks at it now, the offensive surge was the product of a man fighting for his livelihood.

"I think the biggest adjustment I've made is, I have one nostril above water," Bard said. "I knew that it was time to start putting up numbers or I was going to find myself in the Minor Leagues. A lot of people have asked me, family and friends out here, 'Are you nervous about going back or is it going to be scary to go back and catch Wakefield?' My response has always been that scary is not going back and catching Wakefield.

"Scary is when I got traded to the Padres and didn't play for 13 days and was sitting on the bench and not knowing if I was going to get called into the office that night. So I think that was the biggest eye-opener for me."

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

"To me, it's easy to point the finger at injuries," said Bard. "I think that would be an easy way to say it. I take full responsibility for the numbers I put up. Obviously, I was injured twice and those are real things and yes, it was tough to come back from. Ultimately, I didn't perform the way that I needed to or wanted to. I think that coming into next year, this offseason, I worked on a lot of things that I saw. I am anxious and hungry to get back out there and reestablish myself. I'm going to come and do my part the best I can and try to add what I can to this team."

Bard 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 Francona for the way he handled himself during a tough situation. A few months after trading Bard to the Padres to reacquire Mirabelli, Epstein admitted it was a short-sighted mistake.

Other than missing out on Boston's World Series championship in 2007, Bard is at peace with the way things went the first time.

"Looking back in hindsight, they told me they regret that move and different things like that," Bard said. "There's never been a second of hard feelings from my end. I think it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I went to San Diego and was given a chance to play and got a chance to make the playoffs and was able to catch a Cy Young Award winner [in Jake Peavy]. I was able to take those next steps and challenges. I look forward to going back into that fight with them and with the other pitchers in Boston. You find out what you're made of when you play in Fenway Park and play in games that matter all the time."

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