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It’s December 3rd, 2013, and the World Champion Boston Red Sox have finally made their first foray into the free agent market. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported this morning that the Red Sox have signed backstop AJ Pierzynski, signaling the end to the Jarrod Saltalamacchia era. As the details of the contract were slowly released, it was learned that Pierzynski will earn $8.25 over one year, pending a physical. Signing Pierzynski fills the largest hole the Red Sox had this offseason and gives more understanding to this offseason’s plan, as well as the catcher situation going forward.
Pierzynski, a left-handed hitter, is the perfect platoon complement to David Ross and is expected to start around 100 games behind the plate. Last year for the Texas Rangers he hit .272 with a .722 OPS, belting 17 home runs and tallying 70 RBIs to go along with that. While he has never been known to be a defense-first catcher, he threw out a career high 33% of base runners last year and has a good reputation for calling games. It is a little concerning that with Pierzynski the Red Sox will now have two 37 year-old catchers, but Pierzynski has been durable throughout his career. In fact, the last time Pierzynski played less than 128 games was his first full season in the majors, when he played 114 games back in 2001.
The one knock on Pierzynski’s playing career is his on-base percentage. Last year it was .297 due to drawing only nine unintentional walks, and his career OBP, .322, isn’t much better. Outside of the numbers, it could be worrying for some that Pierzynski has earned the ‘bad guy” reputation and that he might alter the Red Sox clubhouse chemistry. This may be blown out of proportion as David Ortiz, who was teammates with Pierzynski from 1998-2002, is quoted as saying, “People like to stamp guys from the beginning. One guy says it, and then everyone else follows what that guy says, and then, boom.” Pierzynski is known as a player who players hate to play against but love to play with due to his ultra competitiveness, so he should fit in quite nicely with the Red Sox.
The future of the Red Sox, both immediate and long-term, are directly impacted by this deal. With Pierzynski in place the Red Sox filled the only hole that they absolutely needed to fill. From here, they have the ability to be a little more creative. They could decide to pursue Carlos Beltran and have a Daniel Nava/Mike Carp/Will Middlebrooks platoon at first, or they could re-sign Mike Napoli and move Nava to left field. They could decide Xander Bogaerts is a shortstop or a third baseman, but either way all positions are now mostly covered and the Red Sox have many directions they could go in.
As for a long-term look at this deal, the one-year deal means the Red Sox must have the utmost faith that Christian Vasquez and Blake Swihart will soon be able to contribute on the major league level. The 23-year-old Vasquez, known to be an exceptional defender, hit .289/.376/.395 for Double-A Portland last season and is expected to start the season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Swihart, who is 21 years old, should be moving up to Portland after hitting .298/.366/.428 in High-A Salem last year. With these two on the path towards the major leagues, signing Pierzynski to a short-term deal made the most sense for the Red Sox.