A.J. Pierzynski plugs Boston’s catcher hole

A.J. Pierzynski is coming off a solid year with the Texas Rangers. (full count.weei.com)

The Boston Red Sox have their catcher for their 2014 title defense, and it is not Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who found the three-year deal he was looking for with the Miami Marlins. Boston’s backstop will be A.J. Pierzynski, who agreed to a one-year, $8.25 million contract with the reigning World Series champions.

While he’s not the offensive threat Brian McCann is, A.J. Pierzynski’s a more than capable hitter in his own right. Though he turns 37 at the end of the month, he’s coming off a pretty good season with the Texas Rangers in which he batted .272/.297/.425 with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs. He also caught 119 games in the Texas heat, proving he still has the stamina to be an everyday backstop.

Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference agree he was worth 1.6 WAR in 2013. That’s a substantial step down from Salty, who was worth upward of three wins last year. But for the money, all Pierzynski has to do is provide a little more than one win, which shouldn’t be too difficult as long as he stays healthy (a pretty safe bet given he’s played at least 114 games 13 consecutive years) and hits better than Jason Varitek did in the latter stage of his career. Steamer projects him for 2.1 fWAR in 2014, which seems overly optimistic given he’s been worth more than two wins just once (in his fluke 2012 season) in the previous 10 years.

On the other hand, that prediction doesn’t seem all that unreasonable considering A.J. Pierzynski’s been a steady player who’s avoided the peaks and valleys that tend to emerge in the course of a long career. He’s been remarkably consistent, especially for a catcher. He’s always been an asset, and at the very least, he’ll bring a competitive spirit to keep the Sox from becoming complacent as they bask in the afterglow of their third championship in 10 seasons.

One cause for concern is he became  trigger-happy at the plate last year, swinging at nearly half of the pitches outside the strike zone and working only nine unintentional walks. That may suggest his bat speed has slowed and he’s compensating, as most aging hitters do, by starting his swing earlier. If that’s indeed the case, he’s likely headed for some regression. Hopefully, he can take a cue from his new teammates and adopt a more patient, disciplined plate approach.

By inking A.J. Pierzynski, bringing back Mike Napoli and signing Edward Mujica to bolster the bullpen, Boston has managed to be relatively busy this offseason without making huge waves. Expect more of the same from the Sox, who don’t need any drastic changes, but could still use some tweaking.

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