A.J. Pierzynski Rumors

Free Agent Faceoff: Carlos Ruiz vs. A.J. Pierzynski

As usual, there are multiple MLB teams that could look to upgrade their backstops. The Rangers, Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Phillies, among others, will enter the off-season unsettled behind the dish. Teams such as those might chase the consistent power and presence of Brian McCann, or the emergent bat and youth of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But both players look to be in line for multiple years and tens of millions of dollars.

So, let's say your team misses on McCann and Salty. Or, perhaps, it isn't willing to roll the dice on the former's balky shoulder or the latter's sudden breakout. Or maybe it sees value further down the market, among a couple of aging veterans who might just have some life left. 

The next two catchers on the list, Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies and A.J. Pierzynski of the Rangers, have both passed the midway point of their fourth decades. Neither figures to command more than two years, if that, and should be had for a reasonable annual salary. And while neither probably has the on-field upside of McCann or Saltalamacchia entering 2014, each may well have more value upside and is nearly certain to carry less risk. But which is a better target? That question warrants another Free Agent Faceoff.

Fortunately, the task of evaluating these two catchers is made easier by the profiles that MLBTR recently published. Tim Dierkes analyzed the 35-year-old Ruiz, pointing to the rather remarkable .303/.388/.454 triple-slash that he posted over the 2010-12 seasons. Though he came out of the gate poorly this year after missing time due to a suspension for Adderall, over the last two months of 2013 he hit much like the Chooch of old. Ruiz is only one year removed from a 4.5 rWAR/5.2 fWAR campaign, though he has experienced a series of minor injuries over the last few years and may not be capable of manning a truly full-time load behind the plate.

Pierzynski, who was profiled by Steve Adams, has never had a year quite like Ruiz's 2012, but could be viewed as a safer, sturdier choice. As Adams notes, the 36-year-old has been incredibly durable, averaging over 130 annual games with the gear on for over a decade. And he is still hitting a ton of long balls for a catcher, though he rarely draws walks. Pierzynski is one of the least-liked opponents in the game, but then again he has drawn his fair share of praise from teammates. And even after putting up better numbers than did Ruiz in 2013 (94 OPS+ versus 90 OPS+), he might well come cheaper.

Whether by choice or by way of backup plan, which veteran backstop would you prefer to ink this off-season?



AL West Notes: Rangers, McCann, Cruz, Angels, Astros

The Rangers' season came to an end last night after a 5-2 loss to the Rays in Game 163, shifting the team's focus to the upcoming offseason. General manager Jon Daniels told Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports last night that there's "no question" Ron Washington will be the manager of next season's team (Twitter link). Here's more on the Rangers and the rest of the AL West…

  • Danny Knobler of CBS Sports writes that the Rangers will likely target Brian McCann in free agency this offseason, as they've attempted to acquire him via trade multiple times and have had scouts following him closely.  That fits with Tim Dierkes' thoughts from McCann's recent free agent profile here at MLBTR.
  • Nelson Cruz wants to be back with the Rangers in 2014, he told reporters, including Michael Florek of the Dallas Morning News. Cruz called the ovation he received in his first at-bat last night "special" and said he feels he's dealt with his mistakes and is ready to move on.
  • Both A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto would like to return to the Rangers, writes Todd Wills of ESPNDallas.com. However, the team's potential pursuit of McCann could take precedence. Durrett also notes that Washington would love to have Joe Nathan back to close games for him in 2014. Nathan can void his option and is likely to seek a multiyear deal. Wills also notes that Washington would welcome Cruz back to the team as well. "Who wouldn't want Nelson Cruz?" asked Washington.
  • Some within the Angels camp expect both manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto to return in 2014, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. There have been rumors that one of the two is headed out the door.
  • With a young core now taking shape, Astros owner Jim Crane tells MLB.com's Brian McTaggart that the payroll will increase in 2014 and the team will look to add some free agents into the mix. Crane specifically mentions a power bat, help for the back of the rotation and bullpen arms as areas of need.

Free Agent Profile: A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski cashed in on a surprising career year with the White Sox at age 35 to sign a one-year, $7.5MM contract with the Rangers that paid him nearly as much in one season as he'd earned via his previous two-year, $8MM contract. Pierzynski's contract was a straight one-year deal without any kind of option, so he'll hit the free agent market once again after another season of plus power behind the plate.

Strengths/Pros

The only catcher in all of baseball with more home runs between the 2012-13 seasons than Pierzynski is Colorado's Wilin Rosario, and he's not hitting the free agent market for another four years. If you're looking for a power-hitting backstop, Pierzynski is only rivaled by Brian McCann, but he won't require the lengthy multiyear commtiment that McCann will.  Pierzynski-AJ

He's also more durable than McCann, and just about every other catcher in baseball for that matter. Pierzynski has averaged more than 130 games per season dating back to 2001 — a staggering testament to his durability. In fact, Pierzynski already ranks 19th all-time in baseball among games as a catcher, and he leads the next-closest active player, Ramon Hernandez, by more than 200 contests. He's spent a total of 35 days on the disabled list over the past decade.

Pierzynski is hitting .273/.296/.428 with 17 homers this year. He topped his previous career-high of 18 homers when he belted 27 last season, and his 17 bombs this year suggest that there's still plenty of power in the tank. He doesn't strike out that often either, as his 14.2 percent strikeout rate and 83 percent contact rate are both better than the league average.

Weaknesses/Cons

Pierzynski has never been one to draw many walks, but his 2.1 percent walk rate in 2013 is the lowest of his career. It's also the lowest among qualified Major League hitters. If Pierzynski gets on base, it's almost always going to come via base hit. When he's on base, it should come as no surprise that he's a slow runner that will clog the basepaths to an extent.

His durability is one of his greatest strengths, but it also causes concern. Pierzynski will turn 37 years old in December, and at some point, conventional wisdom suggests that the sheer bulk of innings he's spent behind the dish is going to catch up to him. Some might look at his second-half swoon in 2013 and think that it's already happening, though there's not necessarily any evidence to suggest that's the case. Still, Pierzynski has followed up a strong .284/.317/.448 first half with a .260/.272/.405 second half. 

Personal

Pierzynski and his wife Lisa have two children: Ava and Austin. He is active within the community and was named one of the 25 "Heroes of Hope" by the Illinois chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation — an organization with which he has been very active. Pierzynski's reputation is well-known; he is often booed by fans and has been voted the "meanest" player in baseball in a poll of 215 players conducted by Sports Illustrated. His teammates, however, will tell a different tale. "Until you play with him, you have a misperception of what he is," former White Sox teammate J.J. Putz told SI's Ben Reiter last year. Putz, Adam Dunn, David Ortiz and Chris Sale are among the former teammates who defend Pierzynski to Reiter, with Sale flatly stating that he never once shook off a pitch selection from his former catcher.

Market

Catching is as scarce a commodity as there is in baseball, and Pierzynski's durability and power will drum up plenty of interest despite his age and declining on-base skills. He makes his offseason home near Orlando, so it's possible that he'd prefer a team in the southeast portion of the country, though that's admittedly my speculation and hasn't dictated where he's signed in previous years.

He's still a clear starting catcher and will likely be compensated as such, but he and agent Steve Hilliard of Octagon might be wise to wait until bigger fish like McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are off the market. At that point, Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz will be the top options remaining. And while Ruiz had a strong track record from 2010-12, he's fallen well short of that pace and been outperformed by Pierzynski in 2013.

Expected Contract

Pierzynski took a one-year deal coming off a career year last offseason. It's hard to imagine him now getting multiple years when he's a year older and coming off a less productive (but still solid) offensive campaign. Another one-year deal looks to be in the cards for Pierzynski, probably at a lesser rate due to the decline in homers and OBP. While a two-year deal can't be entirely ruled out simply due to the dearth of quality catchers in the game, I expect Pierzynski to sign a one-year, $6.5MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



AL Central Notes: Perez, Scherzer, White Sox, Twins

The latest from the AL Central on the day before Michael Bourn is expected to take his physical with the Indians

  • Chris Perez said he was pleased to see the Indians agree to terms with Bourn, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. "It feels like we're a big market club," Perez said. Last fall the closer publicly criticized Indians ownership and management for their decision making and spending.
  • Max Scherzer said the Tigers brought up the possibility of a long-term contract this winter, Jason Beck of MLB.com reports. “We talked about it,” Scherzer said. “But we were more focused on just getting one year done." Agent Scott Boras represents Scherzer, who said he loves Detroit and the Tigers organization. Scherzer is on track to hit free agency following the 2014 season.
  • A.J. Pierzynski said he's not disappointed to have moved on from the White Sox to the Rangers, Scott Merkin of MLB.com reports. "I'm excited about the new opportunity here and the chance to come to a team that definitely has a team to be very competitive, with a goal of going to the playoffs," he said. Pierzynski, who obtained a one-year, $7.5MM deal from the Rangers, described the signing as "bittersweet."
  • The Twins have a new-look rotation after adding pitching reinforcements during the offseason, Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com writes.

Hahn On Viciedo, Pierzynski, Stewart

Earlier today, the White Sox hosted SoxFest 2013, an interactive event where fans got the opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with General Manager Rick Hahn.  Executive Vice President and former GM Kenny Williams couldn't resist joining in and closed things out when he asked Hahn if he'll do a better job than his predecessor.  Hahn responded by saying that the last GM had a better support staff in place (via White Sox on Twitter) and drew laughs from everyone in attendance.  Here's more on the White Sox..

  • Hahn said that the White Sox haven't shopped Dayan Viciedo but added that no one is untouchable, tweets Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.  It was reported last month that the White Sox discussed deals involving Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza.
  • The GM was asked about the departure of A.J. Pierzynski and he explained that the money that would have gone to the catcher was instead re-routed to Jake Peavy, Jeff Keppinger, and Matt Lindstrom, tweets Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.  Hahn also expressed confidence in catcher Tyler Flowers' abilities.
  • A fan asked Hahn about the decision to claim Zach Stewart off of waivers from the Pirates.  The GM explained that Stewart adds depth to the team's pitching, cost the team very little, and has big league experience, Gonzales tweets.  The White Sox's decision to pick up Stewart yesterday marked the second time that they have acquired the right-hander in two years.

AL West Notes: Astros, Rangers, Pierzynski

The Astros will have a new division, sharp new logo, and some new faces as well in 2013.  Chip Bailey of the Houston Chronicle looked at three areas of change for the club and asked if they are truly upgrades.  The move to install Jose Veras as the team's closer given his lack of experience in finishing games is something of a head scratcher for Bailey.  The Astros surprised a lot of people when they signed Carlos Pena to a one-year, $2.9MM deal, money that may have been better spent elsewhere.  However, Bailey tips his cap to General Manager Jeff Luhnow for his efforts to upgrade the club's rotation.  Houston made a trio of low-risk gambles in Alex White, Philip Humber, and John Ely.  Here's more out of the AL West..

  • At today's introductory press conference for A.J. Pierzynski, Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said that there is a decent chance that they'll add another bat, tweets Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest.
  • Rangers skipper Ron Washington told reporters that incumbent Geovany Soto will get some playing time but Pierzynski will be the club's No. 1 catcher, Andro tweets.  The club re-signed Soto to a one-year, $2.75MM deal with $250K in incentives.
  • Pierzynski says that he came to Texas in part because of his affinity for playing there and the climate (Twitter link).

Rangers Sign A.J. Pierzynski

After eight years on Chicago's south side, A.J. Pierzynski is heading a little further south. The Rangers have officially signed the catcher to a one-year deal, the team announced. It's worth $7.5MM. Fellow backstop Luis Martinez was designated for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster.

Uspw_6541750The Octagon client met with Rangers brass last week in Arlington and the club reportedly did extensive homework on him. Pierzynski fills a major gap behind the plate for the Rangers, who lost Mike Napoli. The catcher posted a .278/.326/.501 batting line in 520 plate appearances with 27 home runs in 2012. Pierzynski also appeared in 135 games, reaching the 100 games threshold for the 12th consecutive season.

Texas lost out on a big name free agent last week when Edwin Jackson agreed to a four-year, $52MM deal with the Cubs. With Pierzynski officially joining the Rangers, he'll have Geovany Soto as his primary backup with Eli Whiteside as an additional option. The 35-year-old ranked 30th in MLBTR's list of top 50 free agents this winter and Tim Dierkes correctly predicted that he would sign with the Rangers.

Pierzynski also fills the Rangers' need for left-handed hitting as their lineup is predominantly right-handed. The veteran can also be expected to see time at DH for Texas. The Yankees were also in the mix for Pierzynski, but were less-than-enthused about his defensive skills. Yankees GM Brian Cashman confirmed earlier this month that he checked in with Pierzynski's representatives.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported the two sides were close to an agreement while ESPN's Jim Bowden reported the agreement. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com added details (all Twitter links). Mike Axisa contributed to this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


AL East Notes: Red Sox, Saltalamacchia, Yankees

News out of the American League East..


Heyman & Knobler On Hanrahan, Rangers, Bourn

The latest from Jon Heyman and Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com…

Mike Axisa contributed to this post.


Rangers, Pierzynski Close To Deal

The Rangers and free agent A.J. Pierzynski are closing in on a one-year deal, sources tell Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter).  The deal is still pending a physical and is not yet done.

The Octagon client met with Rangers brass on Tuesday in Arlington and the club reportedly has done extensive homework on him.  Pierzynski would fill a major gap behind the plate for the Rangers, who lost Mike Napoli. The catcher posted a .278/.326/.501 batting line in 520 plate appearances with 27 home runs in 2012.  Pierzynski also appeared in 135 games, reaching the 100 games threshold for the 12th consecutive season.

Texas lost out on a big name free agent earlier today when Edwin Jackson agreed to a four-year, $52MM deal.  If Pierzynski signs with the Rangers, he'll have Geovany Soto as his primary backup with Eli Whiteside as an additional option.  The 35-year-old ranked 30th in MLBTR's list of top 50 free agents this winter.