A.J. Pierzynski: Going for the Gold in 2013

Thursday,  September 20th 2012

Alex Mednick:  A.J. Pierzynski has undoubtedly done himself a great justice by having a career year in 2012.  Given that he plays the sport’s most physically demanding position and is encroaching on his, “golden years” in this game, the veteran catcher will meet free agency in 2013 with a lot going for him.  All he has done this year, in his 435 at bats so far, is hit .280 with 26 home runs, 15 doubles and 73 RBIs.  Those number are not something to take lightly, and it goes without saying that AJ and his agent are going to have a lot of leverage while negotiating with various front offices this off-season.

A.J. Pierzynski is a “heart and soul” player that drives the White Sox. He works well behind the plate with one of baseball’s top rotations, and has proven consistent offensively while having a career year in 2012.

The White Sox have had the career .284 hitter as their back stop for 8 years now, including the 2005 season (AJ’s first season in Chicago), when the then 28-year-old played an integral role in the franchise winning a world championship.  Since Pierzynski began his tenure in the south side, he has played no fewer than 128 games behind the plate and has been a beacon of consistency.  Part of this durability can be attributed to A.J.’s conditioning regiment that he participates in 365 days a year, including after every single game.  Pierzynski has been very open with the fact that as he has gotten older, he has put more mind into the importance of staying in great shape, especially being that he is required to remain in a squatting position for over 1000 innings a year.

Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams has a problem…one that he will have to make his mind up about well before March 2013.  The south side of Chicago has grown really fond of A.J Pierzynski and he has become somewhat of a staple behind the dish over the majority of a decade.  While he has proven at times to be an antagonist in the clubhouse, his gritty, “working class” demeanor make him very appealing and he has definitely given Kenny Williams a lot to think about with his current 2012 production.  If Kenny Williams wants to keep A.J. Pierzynski in Chicago pinstripes, he is likely going to have to pay. Pierzynski is a veteran who understands the game, and fully appreciates that baseball is a business.

White Sox GM Kenny Williams has some decisions to make with regard to who will be playing catcher in the south side come April, 2013.

Quality big league catchers are a tough find, there is no doubt. To find somebody of A.J. Pierzynski’s “ilk”, Chicago would have to convince another team to trade away their prized backstop, and this would likely take a lot of trade bait (trade bait that the worst farm system in baseball does not possess). Also, a catcher like A.J. Pierzynski, at this point in his career, is likely going to request at least 3 years from any team he signs with. The White Sox are likely to only feel confident offering 2 years at most, seeing as they have prospect Tyler Flowers on whom they are patiently waiting to blossom (he is already 26 years old).

Another thing that A.J. Pierzynski has going for him is the recent trend in baseball of GM’s acknowledging the value of cornerstone catchers.  This appreciation can be seen in the recent contracts that have been handed out to other catchers like Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero and Joe Mauer.

One variable that differentiates these other catchers from A.J. is age. But with no sign of slowing down (in fact, the opposite argument can be made), in a game that is all about “what have you done for me lately” production, the age factor should be pretty easily removed from discussions between A.J.’s agent and front offices.

Joe Mauer signed a blockbuster deal with the Minnesota Twins in 2010, after winning the 2009 AL MVP and batting .368 with 28 home runs and 96 RBIs.  While A.J.’s .278 batting average is a far cry from Mauer’s .368 (nobody in major league baseball is anywhere near that mark), his peripherals are close enough that referencing Joe Mauer’s contract is not a complete waste.  We need to note, that while A.J. will not ink an 8 year deal like Mauer did, the $23 million dollar per year average that Mauer is pulling in really raised the bar for all the catchers who would follow him.

More recently, catcher Yadier Molina and Miguel Montero have signed contracts, in St. Louis and Arizona, respectively.   Yadier Molina signed what has been referenced as a team friendly contract when he committed to another 5 years in St. Louis for $75 million ($15 million per year average).  He did this after batting .305 in 2011, with 14 home runs, 65 RBIs and playing gold glove defense for the World Champion Cardinals.  While A.J. Pierzynski cannot boast the defensive prowess and resume that Yadier Molina can, his offensive production has been much higher than Molina provided to the Cardinals in 2011. Miguel Montero is another catcher who recently signed a deal that can help put Pierzynski’s market value in perspective.  He signed a 5-year, $60 million deal with the Diamondbacks, after batting .282 with 18 home runs and 86 RBIs in 2011.

Yadier Molina recently signed a 5-year contract with St. Louis worth $75 million or $15 million a year. He signed the deal after his 2011 season when he hit .305 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs.

It can be assumed that someone with A.J. Pierzynski’s history of consistency and his 2012 production is going to receive a nice deal on the free market.  His agent could easily argue that he has 5 years left in him, and if a team wants to sign him, they need to commit to 5 years so he can comfortably end his career with one franchise.  This approach dictates that teams who do not want to commit that kind of time to an aging backstop, will have to counter the offer with a higher annual salary. Between the low-end of the spectrum (Miguel Montero) and the high-end (Joe Mauer), history has shown us recently that a top end catcher can be valued at between $13 million and $23 million per year. Furthermore, Buster Posey— who is posed to eventually received a contract exceeding that of Joe Mauer’s—is the only catcher who is anywhere near A.J. Pierzynski’s position leading 26 home runs while also being within .40 points of batting .300 (other than Pierzynski himself).  Buster Posey is likely to receive some MVP votes in 2012.

Seeing as the top talent (other than Pierzynski) offered in the 2013 free agent pool consists of only Mike Napoli and Russell Martin, I can see Pierzynski requesting north of Yadier Molina’s $15 million a year.  Asking for a high price in a low supply, high demand situation is one tactic we can always expect from a sports agent.  The fact that the White Sox do seem comfortable with Tyler Flowers’ development means that if Pierzynski is extended even a one-year deal, it likely won’t be in the range that we have decided was “fair” based on recent market moves and AJ’s 2012 performance. When it comes down to it, A.J. Pierzynski will likely receive a 1 year deal because teams truly are concerned about his age and the fact that he does not offer much security to an organization going forward.  A player like Pierzynski who was younger and put of A.J’s production numbers would be in line for a drastically larger paycheck.  Pierzynski will likely get half the annual salary of what he would get if he were 10 years younger coming off a season like he had in 2012.  Pierzynski has noted that he is very content playing for the White Sox organization, so it is possible that he may offer a home team discount so he can finish his playing days in the south side of Chicago.  The fact is, however, that Kenny Williams should bite the bullet and re-sign Pierzynski.

Tyler Flowers, shouldn’t be the answer, but it seems that the White Sox are willing to accept him as their backstop.  Kenny Williams did not put together a starting rotation that consists of Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Chris Sale, and Fransisco Liriano just to hand the duty of managing these fine arms to a young and unproven battery mate.  The same can be said about the position players the Williams has assembled: with a core that consists of Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rios…it would seem imprudent to not have a “the time is now” mentality.  The White Sox have established in 2012 that they can sit atop the American League Central and their absolutely abysmal farm system offers them very little help in any trades for a catcher as well as little reason to wait for the “future” to contend.  The White Sox need to play the game and cough up the money to make Pierzynski a reasonable 2-3 year offer…even if they don’t want him around that long.  That’s the way the game is played…if you want a premium player for next year, you might have to lease him for several to get the deal done.  Pierzynski would likely give the south siders a modest home team discount as well.
(NOTE: It cannot be ignored that if the White Sox utilize Tyler Flowers as their everyday catcher, they have conceded that they will enter every lineup card in 2013 with 7 right-handed batters…assuming they can re-sign Kevin Youkilis or another left-handed third baseman).

Chris Sale, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd say that the time is “now”.

If the Chicago White Sox want to continue holding their place atop the American League Central and feel that having a quality catcher behind the plate 130+ innings a year makes a difference…their best bet is to re-sign A.J. Pierzynski. While it may upset an owners purse that their 35-year-old answer at catcher happened to have a career year during a contract year, A.J. Pierzynski needs to be rewarded. Come winter time, it cannot be forgotten that he was a big part of the reason the White Sox got to the playoffs in 2012 (plus his experience was a big part of Chris Sale’s development…an intangible that Tyler Flowers likely would not bring to the table).  While previous contract renewals between Pierzynski and the White Sox have proven to be shaky, the cheaper alternative in going with Tyler Flowers seems to be a very big gamble for the team heading into 2013.

It comes down to three things ultimately:

1) A.J. Pierzynski is either the best, or second best available catcher this offseason;

2) The White Sox are built for “now” and have no other viable options at catcher; and

3) A.J. Pierzynski will likely sign a 2 or 3 year deal this offseason, and it likely won’t be for less than $7.5 Million a season (Half of what his younger counter-parts would fetch).

Bottom Line:  If the White Sox do not re-sign Pierzynski, it would seem pretty foolish and would likely make many a South Sider very upset.  The game is a business, and money considerations are a factor, but the White Sox are not in a rebuilding mode. To stay competitive and stay in the hunt for another World Series championship, team ownership needs to hand Kenny Williams a blank check with Anthony John Pierzynski’s name on it.

 *** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ***

About Alex Mednick:  I’m a huge baseball fan who loves analyzing and writing about the greatest game in the world. I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut–which is pretty much the crossroads between the Yankee Empire and Red Sox Nation. My father is a Red Sox fan and my grandfather was a Yankees fan…you could imagine how functional our family functions were! I became a die-hard Toronto Blue Jays fan and have been referred to by many a Torontonian as the Ambassador from South of the Border. I was born in 1987 and the Blue Jays were awesome. Joe Carter is my all-time favorite ballplayer. I hardly met any fellow Blue Jays fans until my first trips to Toronto and my years in college when I lived about 25 minutes away from Dunedin, FL…where they host spring training.  Now that I’ve graduated, I moved to the eastern coast of Florida and live 10 minutes south of the Mets training camp and High-A affiliate. Combined with the Jupiter Hammerheads and the Marlins/Cardinals spring home I am doing my best to get my baseball “fix”.

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Posted on September 20, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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