Not long ago, it seemed unlikely that the White Sox would have room for A.J. Pierzynski after 2010. They had Tyler Flowers, a minor league catcher who ranked among baseball's best prospects. Flowers, 24, was coming off his second consecutive season with a .900 OPS and seemed ready to hit in the majors.
But Flowers has slumped in Triple A this year and Pierzynski has posted the lowest on base and slugging percentages of his career. The White Sox appeared to have two sure things just five months ago, but now a lot of that certainty has vanished. Despite his slump, Flowers is hitting .220/.334/.434 with 16 homers in Triple A, so the White Sox don't have to fret too much. Their catching prospect can still hit - he has just struggled to produce like he did earlier in his minor league career, when he posted an .800 OPS everywhere he went.
Flowers still hasn't made the transition from heir apparent to everyday player, so GM Kenny Williams will likely want a veteran catcher on the roster going into 2011. The Indians (Carlos Santana) and Giants (Buster Posey) both cautiously ushered young catchers into the majors this year and the White Sox could aim to do something similar. Santana and Posey hit so well in the minors that their teams created space in the majors and called them up by mid-season.
Pierzynski is still just 33 and he hit well in 2009, but this year he's hitting just .265/.297/.381. He was consistently productive in Chicago from 2005-09 and it's doubtful that the White Sox are going to weigh five so-so months over five full seasons when they decide whether they're interested in re-signing Pierzynski this offseason.
If the White Sox offer Pierzynski, a projected Type A free agent, arbitration, he could accept and return to Chicago on a one-year deal. If he turned it down and signed elsewhere, the White Sox would obtain two high picks in next year's draft.
The White Sox may let Pierzynski walk and rely on Flowers and a veteran catcher, as we would have predicted before the season. But if they don't want to hand the starting catcher's job to a rookie whose minor league numbers are fading, the White Sox can always offer Pierzynski arbitration and deal with the consequences if and when Flowers hits his way to the majors.