Editor's note: As we've done for the past three seasons, ESPN Dallas will go through each position for the Texas Rangers leading into spring training. That series -- Surprise position outlook -- begins today and will continue for the next month before pitchers and catchers arrive in Surprise, Ariz., to get preparations fully underway for the 2013 season.
Today's position: Catcher
When spring training began last year, Mike Napoli was coming off a ridiculous second half of 2011 and was the unquestioned No. 1 catcher. He helped make the Rangers extremely productive offensively at the catching position. The club hit .299 from that spot in 2011, tops in the AL. They scored 82 runs, second-most in the AL. Yorvit Torrealba, signed prior to the 2011 season to a two-year deal with the idea being he'd be the starter, split time with Napoli down the stretch that season.
But Napoli wasn't able to carry over his strong finishing kick in 2011 to the 2012 campaign. He hit .227 with 24 homers and 56 RBIs in 108 games and also dealt with a left quadriceps strain that had him on the disabled list for just over a month in August and part of September. Torrealba never did get it going, either, and was released at the trade deadline when the club acquired Geovany Soto. The Rangers finished 2012 with a .228 average from their catchers, eighth in the AL and a big drop-off from 2011.
Napoli agreed to terms on a three-year, $39 million deal this offseason with the Boston Red Sox, but after completing his physical, the deal was not signed. To this point, it's still not finalized. In the meantime, the Rangers signed Soto to a one-year, $2.75 million deal and then negotiated a deal with free agent A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year, $7.5 million contract. The deals mean that the catching spot isn't figured out long-term, but it does provide the club with two catchers with solid experience for the 2013 season.
Pierzynski, 36, hit .278 with 27 homers and 77 RBIs in 135 games in 2012 for the Chicago White Sox. The homers set a career-high and the RBIs tied a career-high for the veteran catcher.
"He's a winning guy," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "There just aren't that many catchers in the league that go out there and play every day. It is a demanding position, and that says a lot about him being ready to go."
In 133 career at-bats at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Pierzynski has hit .271 with three homers, 16 RBIs, nine doubles, one triple, 19 strikeouts and six walks.
"It's been a long time since I changed teams," said Pierzynski, who has played the past eight seasons with the White Sox. "I'm looking forward to the first day of spring training and even the Fan Fest (in January in Arlington) to get to know some of these guys. I can't wait to know them a lot better.
"To walk into the clubhouse for the first time and meet new people, I'm looking forward to it. It definitely puts a pep in your step and changes things."
Pierzynski gives the club a left-handed bat, and manager Ron Washington made it clear that Pierzynski will be the club's starting catcher.
His backup is Soto, who couldn't find his rhythm at the plate in 2012, but did a nice job with Yu Darvish and the Rangers' pitching staff. Soto hit .198 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs last season with the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. But he became Darvish's personal catcher as the Japanese pitcher looked like an ace down the stretch. Soto did a good job calming Darvish down and keeping him focused while calling a good game.
Washington has always stressed that catching is first and foremost about navigating the pitching staff through games. But there's no question the club hopes to get more offensively from that spot in 2013. For that to happen, Texas needs Pierzynski to hit like he did last season (or close to it) and for Soto to bounce back. Soto did hit .280 in a full season with the Cubs in 2010. That's the guy the Rangers hope to get in 2013.