NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 4, 2013

The Pierzynski deal keeps plan in motion

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — No matter what you’ve heard about A.J. Pierzynski’s personality or whether he’s as good a hitting catcher as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the Red Sox decision to sign him makes perfect sense.

The one-year deal the Red Sox gave to the catcher yesterday provides a needed one-year bridge to the future at a position where the Boston Red Sox have more depth than they have had in a couple decades.

The Red Sox don’t need Johnny Bench behind the plate in 2014.

They needed the best catcher possible at the least number of years possible who can hold down the fort while 23-year-old defensive whiz Christian Vazquez (expected to start year in Triple-A Pawtucket) and 21-year-old first-round pick Blake Swihart (expected to start ‘14 in Double-A Portland), continue to develop. Both are nearing the majors.

Pierzynski is aging. He’ll be 37 on Dec. 30 and he posted just a .297 on-base percentage with the Texas Rangers in 2013, the first time he had ever had an OBP below .300 in his 16 big league seasons.

But considering the depth the Red Sox have in the minors (they also have talented 19-year-old Jon Denney and a strong defender in 27-year-old Dan Butler), it was wise for the Red Sox to stay the course, which meant staying away from free agent backstops Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia who would demand three or more years.

McCann signed for five years with the Yankees. Saltalamacchia reportedly agreed to a three-year deal worth $21 million with the Miami Marlins yesterday after Boston signed Pierzynski.

“His resume speaks for itself,” Red Sox backup catcher David Ross said about Pierzynski yesterday on Sirius XM Sports MLB Network Radio. “He’s won a championship. The guy’s a really good hitter. So I think he should fit in well in our lineup, a left-handed bat. He’s been around for a long time. So I don’t think you can go wrong with signing a guy like that.”

Pierzynski will earn $8.25 million pending a physical, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Yes, his OBP was low last year, but he had the fifth best batting average (.272) among major league catchers last year and still possess power (27 homers in 2012, 17 homers in ‘13). His 42 extra-base hits last year ranked 10th among major league catchers.

Will his attitude be a problem?

A 2012 Men’s Journal survey identified Pierzynski as the most hated player in baseball. But don’t confuse that with him being a bad clubhouse personality. He is respected by his teammates while being a great agitator to opponents.

And although his offense is his strength, he is considered a strong game-caller and he did throw out 33 percent of base stealers last year, up from 25 percent for his career.

Terry Doyle — a free agent pitcher at the moment — was with Pierzynski during spring training with the White Sox and threw to him in one spring training relief outing.

“As far as I can remember, pitchers like him and throwing to him,” Doyle wrote in a text message yesterday.

Pierzynski batted .278 with a .326 on-base percentage, .501 slugging percentage and .827 OPS in 2012 with the White Sox when he won a Silver Slugger award.

He also is considered a big-game player. He is a career .300/.372/.520/.892 in 114 postseason plate appearances. Conversely, Saltalamacchia batted .188/.257/.219/.476 in 35 playoff plate appearances this year.

Additionally, the left-handed hitting Pierzynski should make for a good tandem with the right-handed hitting Ross.

HANIGAN TRADED

Andover High graduate Ryan Hanigan, who had been on the trade block for about a month, was shipped from the Cincinnati Reds to the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Rays now have an excellent defensive catching tandem, Jose Molina and Hanigan.

Hanigan has a .359 career on-base percentage and is considered an elite defender, including leading the NL the past two years in caught stealing percentage. The catcher struggled offensively this past season (.198 average), but he suffered through a sprained wrist and oblique injury.

“Ryan’s been rehabbing his wrist (and is) almost 100 percent,” his agent Tom O’Connell recently told The Eagle-Tribune. “I anticipate him having strong 2014 season. He dealt with nagging injuries from spring training throughout the (2013) season. But with that said, Ryan is not only a strong offensive option for any club, but he’s one of the best defensive catchers in the game.”

This is a terrific fit for Hanigan who will be working with an excellent pitching staff. The Rays had been interested in him for a while.

DREW’S DECISION

Stephen Drew might be regretting his decision not to accept the Red Sox’ one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer. After all,

St. Louis was looking like a landing spot for Drew but the Cardinals instead signed Jhonny Peralta. The Yankees seem like a suitor but GM Brian Cashman said adding a shortstop is not a focus,

“Obviously we have bigger needs than focusing on an area we already have two players manning,” Cashman said in reference to the shortstop position, according to Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger.

Drew, whose agent is Scott Boras, could end up back with Boston. Not many teams would surrender a draft pick to sign an average offensive shortstop who was terrible at the plate in the playoffs.

Another Boras client Kendrys Morales also might regret his decision not to accept a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Seattle Mariners. What team is going to surrender a draft pick for a first baseman who posted an OPS under .800?

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB