With Yadier Molina out until the end of the season, you knew the Cardinals had to do something. Even if he can heal up in time for the back end of September, Molina probably won’t have the benefit of getting any rehab games in against live competition, because the minor leagues will have long since wrapped up their seasons. So the Cards had to make a move, and exploited one fun and obvious fix thanks to the Red Sox’s decision to release A.J. Pierzynski on July 16, signing the veteran for the remainder of the season.
Will Pierzynski meet the Cardinals’ need during Yadi’s absence? I suppose it depends on what you anticipate. AJP has been nothing if not durable, averaging 133 games played over the previous 12 seasons while catching and losing every conceivable popularity contest with opponents, who thus might have more than a little extra reason to take an extra shot at him on plays at the plate or when he’s on the bases. That either speaks to the superb state of sportsmanship in the game, or it might mean that Pierzynski is as reliably nimble as he is ornery, but if you don’t think it’s going to add a little bit of extra tension in those Cardinals-Reds or Cardinals-Brewers games down the stretch, guess again.
But the important thing is that he’s been sturdy and serviceable, and that’s a valuable commodity in itself, but perhaps even more so for catchers. Especially when the alternative is bench jockey Tony Cruz and his career .595 OPS -- whatever else you might say in Cruz’s defense, that’s something you don’t want more of.
As for the bat, Pierzynski will be useful. He may have been handed his walking papers by a Red Sox team deciding that it’s just as well to go young if they’re going to get anything down this season, but he was hitting .282/.319/.400 against right-handed pitching this season, and a team can use that, especially from a left-handed catcher with a long track record for providing some measure of offense. No, he doesn’t walk, but this isn’t a discussion of what he can’t do; he can provide some line-drive pop and a bat from the left side. Let’s not get too upset and look a gift horse in the mouth, just because he isn’t Mike Piazza.
The big question, especially with the Cardinals’ young staff in mind, is whether Pierzynski has a lot left behind the plate, not just at it. His throwing numbers are down again this year (pegging just 19 percent of would-be base stealers), although you can blame some of that on having to catch John Lackey (who’s allowed 15 of 16 stealers to get away with it) and Felix Doubront (a perfect 9-for-9), two guys who don’t do a great job of holding runners close. On this score, the one guy on the Cardinals who might have a problem forming a battery with Pierzynski is probably Shelby Miller, the one guy who’s been slow enough to inspire a number of attempts before Yadi broke down, but we’ll see how it goes in Pierzynski’s debut on Saturday. As for Pierzynski’s receiving skills, using Baseball Prospectus’ measures for evaluating catcher framing, he isn’t great, rating 75th among the 89 men who have caught this year as far as Fielding Runs added by count -- better than Jarrod Saltalamacchia or A.J. Ellis, and about as good (or bad) as Derek Norris. In other words, nothing so epically awful as to deter you from using him, especially when he was a receiver for a lot of young starters with the White Sox.
All in all, a nice pickup, even better because it effectively comes cost-free for the Cardinals. Add in how Pierzynski might help amp up the drama in the NL Central down the stretch, and I like it that much better for what it is: A useful patch to solve a multi-month problem on a contender that can’t afford to let a position add bupkis at bat.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.