Free agent outlook: A.J. Pierzynski

Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

The longtime White Sox catcher boosted his stock with a career year at the plate. Will that be enough for other teams to warm up to him?

With the San Francisco Giants sweeping the Detroit Tigers right out of the World Series, the offseason is officially under way. It opens with free agents filing for their independence, as early as 8 a.m Central.

So today we'll take a look at A.J. Pierzynski's free agency case. The White Sox sound like they might be ready to move on, with Rick Hahn saying Tyler Flowers is ready for an expanded role (he would be saying that anyway, because, you know, leverage). During Fox's postgame show, Pierzynski said that he's looking for the Tigers to make it back to the World Series next year, so maybe his mind has left the AL Central, too.

At any rate, let's see what his case is all about.

Last contract: The White Sox signed Pierzynski to a backloaded two-year, $8 million contract, earning $6 million in 2012. It was a paycut for Pierzynski, who earned a little over $6 million over his previous three-year contract.

How did he do: The two seasons covered by this contract look nothing alike. The transformation is pretty stunning.

Year G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS+ GDP
2011 129 500 38 133 29 1 8 48 23 33 .287 .323 .405 94 19
2012 135 520 68 133 18 4 27 77 28 78 .278 .326 .501 118 8

He set or tied career highs in homers, walks, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS thanks to a retooled approach centered on making better contact, even if it resulted in less contact overall. It worked. While he swung and missed more, he also tapped into far fewer double plays. And then there are the homers.

His defense is another story. He did improve his caught-stealing percentage thanks to the Sox staff giving a crap about slowing down the running game, but the gains in that category were negated by his deteriorating pitch-blocking abilities.

Did he earn his money? Yup, and it's kinda funny that his performance was backloaded to match his contract. FanGraphs puts him at 1.4 WAR in 2011, and 3.4 WAR in 2012 (Baseball-Reference.com has him at 0.3 and 2.6), and even if you come down on him hard for his defense, it's still not an argument. He provided an awful lot of bang for the buck.

Free agent peers: For better or for worse, Pierzynski is hard to compare to others. Mike Napoli and Russell Martin are the only other starter options on the market, and neither are similar. They're both low-average, right-handed hitters who can draw 50+ walks a year with power. And Napoli has never caught 100 games in a season (72 last year).

On the other hand, Pierzynski is five years older than either player, and he's coming off an outlier of a season offensively while his defensive decline is steady. He's also widely despised around the league, although I think most teams that have nothing at catcher could make him work, even if his reputation precedes him. I imagine the only real complications would arise if his new manager thought about splitting time behind the plate.

Reasonable price?* This is a tough one. He'll definitely get a raise over his previous deal, but I'd imagine teams would want to avoid a three-year deal for 36-year-old catcher, especially one who might pose extra complications if he's underperforming -- or if his defense slides into unacceptability.

But even with his question marks, he's still the best bet to offer offense as a full-time catcher of the free-agent crop, so he could benefit from desperate teams bidding against each other. Does two years, $12 million walk the line between the risks and rewards?

(*With the new TV deal, a number of teams may be inspired to open their wallets wide, and that could force us to adjust upward in a hurry.)

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