CHICAGO –- A.J. Pierzynski might have resurrected his career on the South Side, but after six seasons with the White Sox, he might have to adjust his compass.
Pierzynski wants to return in 2011, and the White Sox could use a veteran behind the plate, but for now the status of the free-agent-to-be is uncertain.
“Everyone knows where I stand with the White Sox and the people and the city,” Pierzynski said Tuesday. “I’ve never said that I don’t want to come back. The door is open. But we’ll see what happens. It takes two to do that, make it possible. We’ll see where it goes.”
Pierzynski is coming to the end of a three-year $18.35 million deal that paid him $6.25 million this past season. He won a World Series in 2005, called the playoff push in 2008 one of his most cherished moments and has handled talented White Sox pitching staffs expertly during his stay in Chicago.
In many respects, Pierzynski has grown up during his time with the White Sox, all while retaining the title of "resident pest" to opposing teams. He still slams his bats to the turf, pumps his fist more than others and had that incident in Minnesota earlier this season when he flipped his bat into the Twins’ dugout.
Pierzynski comes to play on a nightly basis though, and his effort has never been questioned with the White Sox like it was in San Francisco, where he played one season before the Giants elected to not sign him in the 2004 offseason.
Despite reports that the White Sox won’t be in cost-cutting mode next season, it remains uncertain if there will be enough money to reach Pierzynski’s pockets. Guillen said it is best to make decisions about re-signing players once the season has wrapped up.
“When your team doesn’t get what you want it to get, there’s not a good positive thought about any of the players,” Guillen said. “We won’t think about how good they were. We will take the negative. Right now, it’s not the right time to do it.”
But when it comes to veterans like Pierzynski and fellow free-agent Paul Konerko, Guillen will think of them as being on the 2011 roster until he hears otherwise.
“In my mind, they are back,” he said.
It is general manager Kenny Williams that ultimately will make that decision. Perhaps a one-year deal in the $4-5 million range would satisfy both parties. That would give catching prospect Tyler Flowers another year to develop.
So where do the White Sox look if Pierzynski doesn’t come back? The list of free agents at catcher this offseason includes: Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, Jason Kendall, Benjie Molina, Miguel Olivo, Ivan Rodriguez, Yorvit Torrealba and Gregg Zaun.
There also could be catching options available from the West Coast.
The Dodgers’ Russell Martin, a two-time All-Star, had an injury-plagued season and also has gone through back-to-back below-average seasons. He could be non-tendered by his club. It's not the best resume around, but the White Sox took a gamble on Pierzynski and that worked out well.
The Angels also have decisions to make with their catching corps. Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli are both arbitration eligible and it's possible that one will not return to the club in 2011. Mathis is more skilled behind the plate, but has been inconsistent offensively, especially this year. Napoli has huge power potential but didn’t develop behind the plate as well as Angels manager (and former catcher) Mike Scioscia would have liked.
There are definitely options beyond Pierzynski, which plays into the White Sox’s hand. And Pierzynski benefits from knowing White Sox personnel, especially the pitchers. Pierzynski also feels comfortable in the White Sox’s clubhouse and likes the team’s potential.
“They’ve got all the talent in the world –- Gavin [Floyd], John [Danks], Sergio [Santos], Chris Sale,” Pierzynski said. “The White Sox pitching is very deep and they have the opportunity to be very special for a long time because they’re young, they’re all healthy, they’re able to win games and they all have good stuff. And they all have good heads on their shoulders, which is the biggest thing. I was proud to say that I was able to play with them and hopefully [will continue to] be able to play with them.”
By the numbers
3: Walk-off hits for the White Sox this season after Dayan Viciedo delivered the game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday against the Red Sox. Viciedo was mobbed on the infield by his teammates. The hit gave the White Sox a 5-4 victory to snap a seven-game home losing streak. The team has won five of its last six games after a season-long eight-game losing streak.
“I always love to see kids have success. It’s easy for me to see those guys playing at the big-league level. In spring training, everybody can look good. I don’t make a decision in spring training because it’s kind of hard. I have an idea who it’s going to be. In spring training, maybe one or two guys make the team there. Everybody else, I know exactly what I like or what I want. In the meanwhile, spring training is very hard. But please spring training, don’t come too soon.” –- Guillen, when asked if the contributions from young players Brent Morel, Chris Sale and Viciedo on Tuesday make him wish spring training was approaching.
White Sox right-hander Freddy Garcia (11-6, 4.74 ERA) will make his last start of the season and his second since returning from a lower back injury. Garcia will be opposed by Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett (6-5, 5.77), who has allowed three earned runs or less in six of his seven career starts against the White Sox.