Decision to join World Series champs easy for A.J.
Veteran catcher sold on Boston by multiple friends throughout the Major Leagues
BOSTON -- For veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, choosing the Boston Red Sox over the other teams who pursued him was one of the easiest decisions of his career. After all, only one team won the World Series last season.
"Obviously, it's not every day you get a chance to play for the defending World Series champions, and looking at the organization and looking at what they have coming back, it's definitely a chance to win again," Pierzynski said.
Pierzynski knows what it feels like to win the final baseball game of the postseason. And the Red Sox have done that two more times since he did that with the White Sox in 2005.
"I've won once, and once you win once, you want to try to do it again," Pierzynski said.. "So it was an opportunity to come to a place where you know they're competitive, and you know that they want to win and they try to win every year."
Sizing up the Red Sox to have the best chance at winning of the teams who went after him, Pierzynski, who turns 37 later this month, had no hesitation about taking a one-year deal which will pay him $8.25 million. The deal was officially announced on Wednesday, one day after Pierzynski took a physical.
"Yeah, there were multiyear offers out there, but in the end, I think winning kind of won out over everything," Pierzynski said.
And for the Red Sox, who have a wave of young catchers coming through their farm system -- Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart are two that stand out -- Pierzynski represented the perfect short-term solution to pair with David Ross.
"I think A.J. represents a lot of what we were looking for at the outset of the offseason when it came to the catcher position," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. "I think, as we made it clear earlier in the offseason, we really wanted to do two things at the catcher position. We wanted to maintain that position as a strength going into 2014, and also [do what was best] for the long term."
Pierzynski had a track record that Cherington could appreciate.
"He's been an everyday catcher, a very good everyday catcher, for a long time. He's been on a lot of really good teams," Cherington said. "He's caught a lot of good pitchers, he's been part of a lot of good pitching staffs. He's obviously a threat with the bat. We think he complements our roster well."
For all that has been said and written over the years about Pierzynski's strong personality, Cherington kept with the blueprint that worked so well for him last winter in finding another player who eats, breathes and sleeps baseball.
"Again, as we look at free agents or guys in trade or whatever, we're looking for guys who not just want to win, but love to play and really are looking forward to coming to Boston," Cherington said. "Aside from his talent, A.J. represented all of that. We just felt like it was the best fit for us."
There were a lot of people Pierzynski could consult with before making his decision. Johnny Damon has been one of his best friends since childhood. Pierzynski remains tight with David Ortiz from their time together in Minnesota. Juan Nieves, Boston's pitching coach, was the bullpen coach with Pierzynski's White Sox for many years. Jake Peavy was a batterymate of Pierzynski's in Chicago. And even a chance meeting with Mark Kotsay in Hawaii helped persuade Pierzynski that Boston was the place for him.
"Yeah, I talked to all of them," Pierzynski said. "I talked to David all the time, actually. And I talked to him not only in the World Series, when I was obviously doing stuff for FOX, but in the winter. Peavy -- who I love that people say Jake and I don't get along -- Jake and I talk all the time, and we get along great.
"They all said, 'Hey man, if you get an opportunity to come, you've got to take it,' and that definitely weighed in Boston's favor. And also the fact that, it was funny, I was in Hawaii and I was on vacation with my family, and I ran into Mark Kotsay, an ex-Red Sox guy. He kind of aksed me where things stood, and I was giving him some teams that had called.
"And he was like, 'Dude, if you get a chance to go to Boston, you have to go.' Every person I've talked to has had a positive experience there. They love it there, and they all said, 'Hey, if you have an opportunity to come, you've got to come.' I was grateful that Ben and the Red Sox reached out and gave me that opportunity."
The Red Sox could have gone with the status quo and re-signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but they preferred a shorter-term solution. Saltalamacchia agreed with the Miami Marlins for three years.
"In the end, we just felt like A.J. was the right fit for us," Cherington said. "With regards to Salty, we had a number of conversations with him. I'd rather not get into the specifics of those conversations, except to say we really appreciate everything he did. Certainly, Salty worked hard and overcame some adversity to become a very good primary catcher this year. He had a good year and put himself in a strong position going into free agency. We wish him well."
Pierzynski seems to get a chuckle out of his personality being such a talking point for people. He doesn't see anything but a smooth fit in Boston's clubhouse.
"Look, I'm just trying to fit in. I think last year going to Texas, I think I fit in pretty well over there," Pierzynski said. "And everything I've heard and talked to and guys that I know in the Red Sox's clubhouse are great. They are guys that I've known. I know [Shane] Victorino; I've known Jonny Gomes for a long time. Everyone says they want to win. That's all I want to do, so I don't think it should be that hard to fit in.
"All you want to do is go in there and win, and you just try to learn your place in the clubhouse and not try to step on people's toes and do anything out of normal. You find out what your role is on the team, and then you go with it and you do the best you can. This isn't my team. This is David Ortiz, this is Dustin Pedroia, this is those guys' team. I'm just a piece to try to help them win again."