Can signing with the Braves change the public perception of Pierzynski?


According to reports the Atlanta Braves and veteran, free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski have agreed to a one-year deal, which could turn out as a win-win for both parties.

Pierzynski, who is nearing the end of his career, may have a chance to retire in a positive light, as through most of his career he’s been labled a “problem player.” The Braves get a competent veteran to groom their rookie catcher.

Even though the Braves have not confirmed that there is a one-year deal between the club and Pierzynski, but we can be pretty darn comfortable in believing that the deal exists.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was the first to unknowingly let the secret slip, in what has now become a fun, little holiday story, which is where this all begins.

Gonzalez was the first, and for obvious reasons the most credible source, to leak news of the deal. 

Fredi Gonzalez. Getty Images.

Fredi Gonzalez. Getty Images.

Apparently while at a Honeybaked Ham store, where Gonzalez was picking up his family’s holiday ham, he was talking about Pierzynski being the Braves answer for a back-up catcher with one of his sons.

Seems harmless enough talking to your kid about work on a holiday outing, no big deal, right?

However, with a high-profile job like, oh say, being the manager of a Maior League Baseball team, it’s not exactly harmless.

According to MLB.com the conversation was overheard by another customer picking up his holiday dinner. The customer told his son, Aaron Lunsford, who tweeted out news of the deal from his Twitter account.

Given the speed that information travels these days it wasn’t long before this became widely reported news. Who in their right mind would have put Pierzynski in the middle of a cute, holiday story? Not me, that’s for sure.

 Anyway, MLB.com’s Braves beatwriter Mark Bowman did later confirm the information tweeted by Lunsford, that Pierzynski and the Braves have agreed on a one-year deal.

The terms of the deal are unknown and will not be annouced by the club until Pierzynski passes his physical. The physical isn’t scheduled for at least another week, likely early January, which is when the team will actually confirm the deal and announce the terms.

 It’s been reported that the deal is worth exactly $2 million but no one has been able to confirm that as the actual salary for Pierzynski for 2015. So for now, this appears to only be a rumor.*

*The rumor was started by a staff writer who works for 13-year-old Devan Fink, who broke the news of Billy Butler signing with the Oakland Athletics and owns the websites Cover Those Bases and MLB Daily Rumors.

The only other sources that have speculated about the terms of the contract are both from CBS Sports. Jon Heyman reported on Twitter that the deal was “expected” to be worth somewhere around $2 million, while later on his colleague Mike Axisa wrote that the contract could be,

“Maybe $4 million or so. We’ll see.”

So, to reiterate it doesn’t appear details about the contract will be made official until after Pierzynski’s physical which should be in about a week. Don’t believe every rumor your read until it’s official.

Umpire Ron Kupla, former Rangers manager Ron Washington & A.J. Pierzynski. Getty Images

Umpire Ron Kupla, former Rangers manager Ron Washington & A.J. Pierzynski. Getty Images

Now, normally when you hear the name A.J. Pierzynski you think controversy, not a funny little holiday story. It’s almost as if the question of “who wants that guy on their team and why?” is resounding throughout baseball, or maybe it’s just me.

Pierzynski’s been known to be a hot-headed guy, not well-liked in the clubhouse and he’s never been said to be the manager’s (and definitely not the umpire’s) best friend.

Yet, unlike most catchers, Pierzynski is known as one who can hit. He owns a .281 career batting average while also having averaged 15 home runs and 73 RBI a season over the past 17 seasons. He’s also known to have some defensive deficiencies that, until 2014, were considered to be offset by his bat.

The soon to be 38-year-old had a rough time at the plate in 2014. He began the season as a member of the Boston Red Sox, replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia who had signed with the Miami Marlins, apparently there as a bandaid for the role until the Red Sox prospects were ready for the show.

By mid-July, when Pierzynski was hitting .254 with four home runs and 31 RBI but had only driven in four runs and not gone deep since June 1, the Red Sox decided that it was time for prospect Christian Vasquez to take the next step and Pierzynski was released.

Luckily for him, but not for St. Louis Cardinals’ superstar catcher Yadier Molina, Molina had just torn a ligament in his thumb that required a surgical fix and significant time on the disabled list.

A.J. Pierzynski. Getty Images.

A.J. Pierzynski. Getty Images.

Pierzynski signed on with the Cardinals and even though his hitting did not improve, he made it to the postseason as the back-up catcher for the recovered Molina.

His time as back-up for Molina makes him a good fit for Atlanta whose president of baseball operations, John Hart, has been wanting to move current starting catcher Evan Gattis to left-field (or possibly even trade him), while still grooming prospect Christian Bethancourt to take over full-time behind the plate.

Catchers need to prepare more than any other player and that includes making it a little more difficult to jump from Triple-A to the Majors.

They need to hone their own skills behind the plate and adjust to hitting big league pitching, like any other player, but they must also get to know the entire pitching staff and the habits of hitters around the league.

Evan Gattis. Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

Evan Gattis. Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

Having a 17-year veteran in Pierzynski to help mentor Bethancourt should work out well for the Braves and their future.

This should work long as Bethancourt gets most of the starts and assuming Pierzynski is on board and remains on board with that arrangement.

There’s always a (good) chance that Pierzynski could become disgruntled without daily playing time. There’s also even the chance that he could make a comeback at the plate.

However, with Pierzynski turning 38 on December 30th, it seems that the best outcome for all parties would be that Pierzynski uses this deal to mentor a young player and respectfully wind down what has been quite an exciting (in many ways) career.