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Agree to one-year, $8.25 million deal with C-L A.J. Pierzynski [12/3]
And here you thought A.J. Pierzynski’s weird everything-clicked 2012 season was a fluke. Why, he followed it up with a 2013 season that was his second-best of the past decade! It’s a genuine late-career breakout.
Well, actually not. It was second-best by the slimmest of margins, slotting perfectly into a career that, but for one bump, has been baseball’s most consistent. Since 2004, his season with the Giants, Pierzynski hasn’t had a single season with an OPS+ under 84, or (but for 2012) over 94. The contours have shifted a little bit–he hit 18 home runs, and eight; he hit .300, and .257; he struck out in 5 percent of his at-bats, and 15 percent–but he’s been settled business. He hits a lot of groundballs, though he’s hit more fly balls over the past two years. He never walks–only eight American Leaguers drew a higher percentage of their total walks intentionally than he did; he was intentionally walked twice. His defense isn’t great and he's not much of a framer. And he’s got a reputation:
For the Red Sox, newly committed to short-term contracts and guys who don’t mind playing in a critical media market, Pierzynski is (besides a fairly low performance level) the perfect match. Even after his career year, he couldn’t manage (or perhaps didn’t aggressively desire) a multi-year deal. Now that his pull rate has gone back to normal, and his HR/FB rate with it, any hope that he was developing into some sort of catching Raul Ibanez is gone. Not that anybody really believed it in the first place: Dude hit 27 home runs with a 120 OPS+ at 35 and got a one-year, $7.5 million contract, then hit 17 with a 94 OPS+ at 36 and got a one-year, $8.25 million contract. He could pitch four no-hitters this year or he could trip into an open manhole and go missing for the entire season, and next year his contract is going to be pretty much the same.
As Marc Normandin writes, it’s probably best to view this not through a Pierzynski lens but a Red Sox lens:
If you're wondering why, there are two answers. One is named Christian Vazquez, and the other, Blake Swihart. Both catchers are prospects who will spend the 2014 season in the upper levels of Boston's farm system, and the Red Sox wanted to make sure that there was room for both once they were ready: limiting the contract of their current major-league backstops was the simplest way to allow for that.
In a lot of ways, signing A.J. Pierzynski has more to do with that pair than it actually does with Pierzynski. He simply fit the mold of what they wanted, in that he can be a capable, competent catcher for a single year as a 37-year-old who wouldn't be looking for significant riches or years.
As to that “A.J. Pierzynski Hated” reputation, GM Ben Cherington told the Boston Herald this year that, before signing a player, he makes 10 to 15 calls to get a read on the guy’s personality. He wouldn’t have to look far to find somebody with insight into his new catcher’s hatability:
Of course, he shows up others, too. One of the longstanding criticisms of Pierzynski is his penchant for chattering at hitters. Not true, he says. "I say hello and that's it." Oh, except for David Ortiz. The old Twins teammates go back and forth—this much A.J. admits. "We've known each other forever," he says. "We call each other names."
We might presume that Ortiz vouched for him. Indeed, the Red Sox are themselves now vouching for him, which should put to rest the question of whether Pierzynski is, as a noted heel, also a bad teammate. He’s most probably not.