A.J. Pierzynski settled for a one-year contract for a reported $7.5 million with the Texas Rangers on Thursday, officially ending an eight-year run with the White Sox.
The left-handed hitting catcher's colorful stay on the South Side began in 2005, when the Sox won the World Series. He batted .257 with with 18 homers and 56 RBI that season, and in his final season as a Sox, Pierzynski hit a career high 27 homers and drove in 77 runs, matching his best RBI year of 2004 with the San Francisco Giants. He won the Silver Slugger Award given to the top hitter at his position, and the 27 homers were the second-most by a Sox catcher.
Cheered enthusiastically at U.S. Cellular Field and booed almost everywhere else, Pierzynski wanted to stay with the Sox, but management has been prepared all along to give 27-year-old Tyler Flowers a shot at the starting job. Pierzynski will be 36 later this month. While Pierzynski's age was a factor in the Sox not pursuing him harder, he showed few signs of slowing down, topping the 1,000 innings-caught mark for the 11th consecutive year -- the longest streak by an active catcher. His 100-plus games caught for the 12th consecutive season is the fourth longest in major league history.
In eight seasons with the Sox, Pierzynski averaged 15 homers, 25 doubles and 58 RBI. He batted .279 as a Sox with a .318 on-base percentage and .424 slugging percentage. Flowers is unproven as a hitter but will be an upgrade defensively, especially at blocking balls in the dirt and giving a lower target for pitchers -- Pierzynski ranked 107th of 116 major league catchers according to one defensive formula even though his throwing improved slightly in 2012.
His signature Sox moment may have been Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, when he alertly ran to first base after striking out on a pitch in the dirt from the Angels' Kelvim Escobar after catcher Josh Paul rolled the ball back to the mound. When plate plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled the ball hit the ground before Paul gloved it, Pierzynski was called safe. Pinch runner Pablo Ozuna eventually scored the game-winning run on Joe Crede's double.
The Rangers also have Geovany Soto at catcher and are expected to use Pierzynski in a platoon while using him at designated hitter as well. The deal is pending Pierzynski passing a physical, with is expected to be taken on Friday.
The market for Pierzynski never got very hot, even after the Pittsburgh Pirates signed free agent Russell Martin to a two-year, $17 million deal and the Red Sox agreed to terms with former Ranger Mike Napoli for three years, $39 million during the Winter Meetings. The White Sox reportedly offered Pierzynski one year at $4 million after he made $6 million in 2012. There are conflicting reports on whether the Yankees offered a one-year deal.
"Nobody has meant more to Chicago in a White Sox uniform,'' Sox pitcher Jake Peavy said after signing a two-year extension with the team in October. "He's been a tremendous player. We wish him the best in free agency. If it doesn't happen, that's something we can't control. But everybody thinks the world of Tyler Flowers as a catcher. If his number's called, he can be the leader you have to have at that position.''