After toiling through most of the season, free-agent-to-be A.J. Pierzynski seemed to suddenly remember he was in a contract year and set the world on fire over the season's final two months. An .821 OPS in August followed by an .815 in September helped Pierzynski at least moderately salvage the worst offensive season of his ten-year career as a Major League regular. Let's look at Pierzynski's situation as he heads into free agency:
- Pierzynski owns a .284/.324/.424 slash line for his career, making him one of the game's better hitting catchers over the course of the past decade. He's not elite, but he's been consistent.
- Pierzynski has played in at least 128 games every year since 2002. He's been able to stay healthy and productive for the most part, despite all of those innings behind the plate.
- He's unlikely to be offered arbitration, due to his Type A status and $6.25MM base salary in 2010. This means a team interested in signing Pierzynski likely won't have to surrender a pick to do so.
- He makes consistent contact. Pierzynski struck out in just 8.2% of his plate appearances this season, and his career mark is a solid 12.1%.
- While he doesn't strike out, he walks even less. A.J. walked in just 3% of his plate appearances this season and his career mark of 4% is hardly an improvement.
- He doesn't come with the reputation of being a great defender behind the plate (though he's improved at throwing out runners each of the past two seasons, including a 26.5% mark this season).
- Controversy seems to follow Pierzynski and he's been known to have attitude problems with other teams as well as his own.
- He's 34 years old and has 10,756.2 innings behind the plate since becoming a regular catcher in 2001. He's DH'ed just twice in his career; when he plays, he catches. Given those numbers, it's possible that his 2010 decline is a sign of his body wearing down rather than a statistical aberration.
Pierzynski has been a solid offensive catcher throughout the duration of his career, and there's always teams in need at the position. He's said he'd like to return to Chicago, but has to look at what's best for he and his family. This probably means he's going wherever they pay him the most, and given Tyler Flowers' presence in Chicago (despite a down year in Triple-A), it may not be there. We saw two teams overpay for worse catchers last season when the Royals and Nationals gave two-year deals to Jason Kendall and Ivan Rodriguez, respectively, so it wouldn't shock me to see Pierzynski and his agent look for two years. However, this year's class is much deeper. Pierzynski will have to compete with Victor Martinez, John Buck, Ramon Hernandez, and Rod Barajas, among others. As such, Pierzynski may be limited to a one-year deal in the $3M-$4M range.