The future destination of catcher A.J. Pierzynski is unknown, however a return to the Chicago White Sox appears doubtful. The durable receiver appears more likely to end up with a one- or two-year deal from one of three American League clubs. Teams that have shown interest include the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays.
The White Sox will be maxed out in payroll at close to $110 million once they sign arbitration-eligible players Gordon Beckham and Alejandro De Aza. That will put the club in a position of having to trade a salary in order to fit Pierzynski’s projected $9 million or $10 million salary into the budget. For that reason alone the premise of the 35-year-old backstop seems remote.
Pierzynski is coming off of a career year in home runs (27) and RBIs (77), so he appears deserving of a two-year deal at $18 million to $20 million. Former Yankees catcher Russell Martin signed a two-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $18 million after hitting just .213 in 2012. That contract alone puts Pierzynski in a position to sign a multiyear deal with a contender.
The body of work Pierzynski has amassed is impressive. The Orlando, Fla., resident has caught 100 or more games in 12 consecutive seasons. (The major league record is 13 held by Bill Dickey, Johnny Bench and Brad Ausmus.) He is ranked first in games caught since 2001 with 1,512, first in hits by a catcher (1,609) and first in doubles (325).
The argument for bringing Pierzynski back to the Sox is strong. First and foremost, no one is sure what Tyler Flowers will do as the No. 1 catcher. The plan last season was for Flowers and the veteran catcher to split the job. Pierzynski got off to a hot start, and Flowers’ playing time suffered. The young catcher compiled just 136 at bats, hitting .213. The other part of the equation has only two left-hand hitters in manager Robin Ventura’s lineup -- Adam Dunn and De Aza.
Although Pierzynski is durable, father time has robbed him of some of his mobility behind the plate. The Sox finished second in the league in wild pitches. Some of that was the by-product having a young pitching staff and part was due to the catcher’s lack of movement in the crouch.
Tampa Bay would be close to home for Pierzynski, however due to financial constraints the Rays do not usually hand out big contracts to veteran players. After trading pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals, they should have money to spend. The Texas Rangers would be a top choice, with the ability to platoon him with former Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto and get Pierzynski at-bats at DH when Soto catches.
The one intangible to signing Pierzynski is his ”winning player” reputation. Although some teammates and opponents have taken exception to the catcher’s personality over the years, many agree he is one of the smartest and tenacious players in the game.