The White Sox have an offensively and defensively limited catcher who is under performing in the final year of his contract. Their top prospect happens to play catcher, and has little left to learn in Triple-A.
Seems like a pretty simple transition, right?
Not when A.J. Pierzynski is the veteran in question, and not when Ozzie Guillen is the manager. This one goes beyond simple math.
First off, the Sox have to make their decision in the next month. Pierzynski becomes a 10-5 player on June 14, and has already said "they can’t trade me" if he’s still a White Sox by then.
And it’s hard to tell if the White Sox would want to. For all of Pierzynski’s faults as a ballplayer -- he’s hack-happy, a bad baserunner and won’t win a Gold Glove -- he has the faith of his pitching staff. Jose Contreras is the only Sox starter in recent memory who preferred throwing to somebody else.
Pierzynski doesn’t want room for anybody else, either. He’s bristled in the past at the suggestion that the Sox need a catcher who can hit lefties better, or that he might need more days off.
Does this sound like the guy who would concede time to the man who would replace him? Probably not, so Tyler Flowers, the power-hitting catcher and the Sox’s top positional prospect, has his work cut out for him in making inroads. The challenges are threefold:
He’d be a rookie catcher with a veteran pitching staff. Mark Buehrle told the Chicago media in the spring that he would want Pierzynski back, and he’s not alone. Flowers has to win the starters over.
His value is based on his hitting. When the Sox acquired Flowers after the 2008 from Atlanta as part of the Javier Vazquez trade, there were questions about whether he could even stick behind the plate. The scouting reports have since improved. At 6-foot-4, Flowers won’t be graceful, but he should be passable for at least a few years.
His bat will need to carry his glove, though. He’s hitting .274/.364/.589 in his first full season at Triple-A Charlotte. But out of all the position players, catchers usually have the hardest time making the offensive adjustment, probably due to the extra work they have in learning about pitchers and hitters. He’s not likely to hit the ground running.
He strikes out too much. Thanks to a recent slump, Flowers has struck out 36 times over 95 at-bats. Ozzie Guillen is more intolerant of strikeouts than most managers, and a lot of people around the team take his lead. If Flowers swings and misses early on, he’s going to hear about it.
The one thing in Flowers’ favor? The White Sox are 14-20, with plenty of misfiring pieces on offense.
If the Sox are truly out of contention by the halfway mark, they should make Flowers the most-time DH and backup catcher. That would give him plenty of time to take his lumps offensively in games that don’t matter, and give Guillen and his pitchers some time to establish a comfort level.
Pierzynski would still catch most of the games, which would make him and the pitching staff happy, and at the end of the season, everybody can evaluate their options. The best-case scenario has a worthy Flowers taking over catching duties and the Sox bidding Pierzynski a fond farewell for his six successful seasons of service.
And if Flowers doesn’t look like he’ll be able to cut it one way or another and Pierzynski rebounds, the Sox probably have the option of standing pat with a one-year deal. Guillen has handled Pierzynski well, but a lot of other teams probably have no need to risk the potential headache of having him on board. He’s made his market somewhat limited, and we all know why.