The Red Sox cut out Salty from the lineup, but, in a sense, became saltier. The Red Sox on Tuesday signed veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, one of the most hated players in baseball. The signing means Jarrod Saltalamacchia has played his last game in a Red Sox uniform.
It appears to be a departure from the Red Sox philosophy of just a season ago. Last offseason, the Red Sox decided to take a can of Lysol to the clubhouse. The Red Sox had already begun the process of cleaning house by removing the stench of malcontents like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Alfredo Aceves. In came some good clubhouse guys like Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, and Ryan Dempster.
None of those new guys would go in the first two rounds of your fantasy baseball drafts. But put them together on a real baseball field and the results were a World Series Championship in 2013.
Now the Red Sox have shaved off one of their bearded compatriots. They replaced him with the acerbic Pierzynski. In a 2012 article on SI.com, Ben Reiter points out that Pierzynski was voted by other major league players in 2006 as the player they would most like to see beaned, baseball's meanest player in 2011, and baseball's most hated player in 2012.
Over the next few days, you will be inundated with the video of Pierzynski running over Cubs catcher Michael Barrett in a game in 2006 and the brawl that followed. If nothing else, it proved Pierzynski can take a punch.
In 2011, Pierzynski had an in-game altercation which was caught on camera with then-teammate Jake Peavy. If Peavy isn't traded this offseason, the two will now be teammates in Boston in 2013.
An anonymous National League pitcher in a 2012 USAToday article is quoted as saying, "(A.J.) likes to talk a lot of (stuff), and I've heard he's a bad teammate."
Former manager Ozzie Guillen has been quoted as saying, "If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less."
Maybe Pierzynski's reputation precedes him. The 2006 brawl appears to me to be an overreaction from a catcher who got caught up in a Chicago intracity rivalry. The 2011 altercation with Peavy seems to be the perfect storm of two hugely competitive players having a disagreement.
There is no doubt that opponents hate Pierzynski. I have no problem with that. The concern is how is he with his teammates, coaches, and manager. Pierzynski seems to be a very cerebral person. He has done an outstanding job as a studio analyst for FOX Sports for the past three postseasons.
Pierzynski appears to have little patience for people who aren't as smart as him. He also has little patience for players who don't work as hard as him. In an ESPN article by Tim Keown, Pierzynski estimates more than 90% of major league players are more talented than he is. He has to work harder than most. Maybe that is why he gets irked when he sees players more talented than him throwing that talent away.
In that same article, Pierzynski is quoted as saying, "I take pride in coming to the ballpark every day and being a professional. When you question that, we've got trouble."
But let's move on beyond the mental stuff. As a player, there is little question the soon-to-be 37-year-old catcher is better offensively and defensively than his predecessor in Boston.
Pierzynski is a career .283 hitter who strikes out once every 8.12 at-bats. Saltalamacchia is a career .246 hitter who strikes out once every 3.08 at-bats.
Pierzynski threw out 33% of potential base stealers last year. Saltalamacchia threw out only 21%. While Saltalamacchia improved greatly in his handling of the pitching staff, the veteran Pierzynski is better. Pierzynski is also better at framing pitches.
I'd be curious to know if Pierzynski was Ben Cherington's first choice all along. It was obvious the Red Sox had soured on Saltalamacchia when they didn't present him with a qualifying offer. With youngsters Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart coming up the pipeline, a one-year deal with Saltalamacchia seemed a perfect fit.
Instead, Pierzynski gets the one-year, $8.5 million deal, according to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. It presents close to a $6 million savings had Saltalamacchia accepted a qualifying offer from Boston. So the Red Sox are being frugal?
Catchers have been scooped up quicker than any other position in free agency. Carlos Ruiz was re-signed by Philadelphia. Brian McCann was signed for big bucks by the Yankees. Dioner Navarro was signed by the Blue Jays.
Ruiz would have been my first choice to replace Saltalamacchia. I wouldn't have touched McCann. Navarro would have been a nice fit, although maybe not "sexy" enough for Boston. That left Pierzynski and Saltalamacchia, or risk going into the season with right-handed bats Ryan Lavarnway and David Ross.
Presented with those options, I'd choose Pierzynski. He is a solid hitter who makes contact. He won't give you 20 home runs, but he also won't strike out 100 times. He will throw out base runners and call a great game. He will frame pitches better and get a few more called strikes for his pitchers.
He will also give the media more quotes and be more vocal in the clubhouse. The question is-- will that be a good thing?
Either way, the Red Sox hope FOX Sports will be needing to find a replacement analyst this postseason.