Bet it’s a Merry Christmas at catcher A.J. Pierzynski‘s house this year. Coming off one of the finest seasons of his career, Pierzynski recovered nicely by signing a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers for $7.5 million after the Chicago White Sox made it clear they didn’t want to keep him.
Was it something I said? is how Pierzynski might have reacted to that snub. Of course, when it comes to the glib, tell-it-like-it-is Pierzynski, it might well be something he said. However, not in this instance. The White Sox wanted to get younger and cheaper and turned to Tyler Flowers. Flowers has been the catcher of the future for the Sox and the Sox decided that the future is now.
That left Pierzynski, who turns 36 on Dec. 30, out of a job and he began searching. There is usually not much trust placed in 36-year-old catchers because if they have been catchers very long they generally have knees that remind people of those belonging to Joe Willie Namath and other limp-alongs. Not Pierzynski. He has had remarkable durability behind the plate. That made him quite saleable for use at his favorite position, not as a designated hitter or outfielder.
Counting his very first Major League appearances with the Minnesota Twins when he was just legally old enough to drink, Pierzynski has been in the majors since 1998 when he was 21 and he has 15 seasons on his resume. A two-time All-Star, Pierzynski manned the White Sox’s catcher’s job for eight seasons, including the 2005 World Series championship year. He has a lifetime batting average of .284 and showed no sign of slippage whatsoever in 2012. Pierzynski totaled a career high in home runs with 27 and equalled his career high in RBIs with 77 while hitting .278.
Most impressively have been Pierzynski’s game totals over the years, the vast majority of them spent squatting behind the plate. Between 2005 and 2012, Pierzynski appeared in no fewer than 128 games and as many as 140 games for the White Sox as the chief designated handler of pitchers on the field.
A feisty player who led not only vocally, but with brash play on the field when needed, Pierzynski should pay dividends for the Rangers, who found themselves in need of an experienced catcher when Mike Napoli took his free agency elsewhere. While it is obvious from the one-year deal that the Rangers aren’t banking on the aging Pierzynski to fill the spot indefinitely, he seems like the perfect answer for 2013.
For the last few years the White Sox seemed prepared for Pierzynski to falter so they could give the catcher’s job to Flowers, but Pierzynski refused to oblige. He kept playing too well. Ultimately, the team made the choice not to continue investing in Pierzynski and the plan is to count on Flowers now.
Inevitably, Pierzynski will slow down, but if he continues to play the way he did in 2012 that should not be this year and it might not be for a couple of years yet. Remember Carlton Fisk. The Hall of Fame catcher didn’t retire until he was into his 40s and even then he was screaming in protest when they ripped the mask and chest protector off of him. Pierzynski could turn out the same way.