Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sox Sign Pierzynski

Pierzynski figures to be a good value for Boston (CSNNE)
The Red Sox have their catcher for their 2014 title defense, and it is not Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who reportedly landed a three year deal worth $21 million with the Miami Marlins (someone clearly values dollars more than winning). Boston's backstop will be A.J. Pierzynski, who agreed to a one-year, $8.25 million contract with the reigning World Series champions.

Outside of Saltalamacchia, Pierzynski was probably the best catcher still on the market before today (with Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz, and Jose Molina already taken). Though he turns 37 at the end of the month, he's coming off a solid season with the Rangers in which he batted .272/.297/.425 with 17 home runs and 70 RBI. He also caught 119 games in the Texas heat, proving he still has the stamina to be an everyday backstop.

Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference agree he was worth 1.6 WAR in 2013. That's a substantial step down from Salty, who was worth upwards of three wins last year. But for the money, all Pierzynski has to do is provide a little more than one win, which shouldn't be too difficult as long as he stays healthy (a pretty safe bet given that he's played at least 114 games 13 years running) and hits better than Jason Varitek did in the latter stage of his career. Steamer projects him for 2.1 fWAR in 2014, which seems overly optimistic to me given that he's been worth more than two wins just once (in his fluke 2012) in the previous ten years.

On the other hand, that prediction doesn't seem all that unreasonable considering that Pierzynski's been a steady ballplayer who's avoided the peaks and valleys that tend to emerge over the course of a long career. He's been remarkably consistent, especially for a catcher (who seem more prone to suffering serious injury as well as drastic fluctuations in production) He's always been an asset for whomever employs him, and I have little doubt he will continue to produce solid results for the Sox next year.

 My one concern (besides his age) is that he became very trigger-happy at the plate last year, swinging at nearly half of the pitches outside the strike zone and working only nine unintentional walks. That may suggest that his bat speed has slowed and he's compensating, as most aging hitters do, by starting his swing earlier. If that's indeed the case, then he's likely headed for more regression. Hopefully the Red Sox help him adopt a more patient, disciplined plate approach.

Lastly, I like this move for Boston because it's cheap and addresses their need at catcher. It leaves plenty of room in Ben Cherington's budget to re-sign Mike Napoli, if he so chooses, or go after other free agents like Corey Hart and Carlos Beltran. Financial flexibility allowed Cherington to do great things last winter, and I'm intrigued to see what moves he'll make in the aftermath of winning the World Series. All he has to do is make some minor tweaks here and there, but having adequate funds will make them infinitely easier.

Signing Pierzynski was just the first of several moves that need to be made. But if it's a sign of things to come, then I approve of Cherington's strategy.

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