The Tampa Bay Rays have put together a great stretch lately, winning 11 of their last 14 games and narrowing their gap in the AL East to 9.0 games, something that seemed impossible just a couple of weeks ago. But if the Rays want to win, they are still going to need someone to provide a boost. Could catcher A.J. Pierzynski do just that?
Pierzynski, 37, was just designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday after putting up a disappointing season. This year, he has hit just .254/.286/.348 (.633 OPS), well off his career .746 OPS and the .773 OPS he put up from 2012-2013. Some players you might expect to rebound, but with Pierzynski being an older player, he probably won’t see significant improvement. That said, current Rays catcher Jose Molina isn’t exactly winning a Silver Slugger anytime soon, putting up a meager .184/.217/.191 line (.408 OPS) and having posted a .517 OPS over the last three years. Pierzynski won’t be awe-inspiring in the batter’s box, but he would be a clear upgrade over Molina there.
For his career, Molina has been much more successful at throwing out baserunners than Pierzynski. However over the last two years Pierzynski has been marginally better, throwing out 33% of baserunners in 2013 and 19% in 2014 compared to Molina’s 29% and 17%. As far as allowing passed balls and wild pitches, Molina and Pierzynski have allowed basically the same amount relative to the amount of games they’ve caught. Where they differ defensively is that Molina is a much, much better pitch framer. He is consider one of, if not the best pitch framer in all of baseball while Pierzynski is simply average. The pitch framing alone makes up for a huge chunk of the offensive difference.
Another consideration is that Pierzynski has had trouble in clubhouses before, and there were even reports of some Red Sox players not being happy with him just this season. Also, the Rays and Pierzynski don’t exactly have a great history. Back in 2012, Pierzynski made a dirty slide into the ankles of Ben Zobrist (GIF of that slide here). That sparked some bad blood between the Rays and Chicago White Sox (where Pierzynski was playing at the time), with Alex Cobb beaming Pierzynski the next day and White Sox pitcher Jose Quintana later throwing behind Zobrist. Now, Zobrist is the type of guy that forgives and forgets, but you have to wonder if some of the Rays players would have a negative reaction to bringing in Pierzynski.
One last consideration is monetary. Pierzynski is owed roughly $4 million this year, a significant amount to the Rays, though he is a free agent after this season. He has been DFA’d, but given the fact that he still has offensive ability at a position that severely lacks it, he is likely to be traded for a minimal return or at least claimed on waivers by someone. Therefore, the Rays would be on the hook for this salary if they were to trade for him or claim him. Also, if they got rid of Molina to accommodate Pierzynski they would be paying Molina the rest of this year’s salary for him not to be on the roster, as well as his $2.75 million salary in 2015. .
In the end, the Rays could look to bring in A.J. Pierzynski, but there are also plenty of reasons that could stop them from acquiring him. The team already has two defensive-minded catchers in Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina, so they could use an offensive boost at the position. Losing Molina means losing his pitch framing, but with Hanigan being one of the best defensive catchers in the league, the offensive-defensive tradeoff might be worth bringing in Pierzynski. However, his negative clubhouse presence, past feud with the Rays, and monetary issues might keep him from playing in a Rays uniform. The Rays will at least give him a look, and they will consider him even more strongly if he somehow goes untraded and unclaimed and becomes a free agent, meaning he would come at a much cheaper price. We will have to see what the Rays’ thought process is, but we do know that they need a boost, and Pierzynski is one way they could consider adding to the team.