Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said after the World Series that it was unrealistic to expect the roster to remain intact. Change, even for championship teams, can be beneficial.
That process started Tuesday when the Sox agreed with veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year contract worth $8.25 million. Pierzynski will replace Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the primary catcher.
The Red Sox were interested in retaining Saltalamacchia, but only for a deal of no more than two years. When negotiations broke down, they turned to Pierzynski.
Cherington deferred comment until after Pierzynski has his physical in Boston, which will be this week.
It became clear during the Series that the Red Sox were ready to move on from Saltalamacchia. Defensive mistakes in Game 3 kept him on the bench for the final three games as David Ross took over.
In a market in which catchers are in demand, Saltalamacchia did not lack options and later Tuesday agreed on a three-year, $21 million deal with the Miami Marlins.
Pierzynski will be playing for his third team in as many years. After spending 2005-12 with the White Sox, he joined the Texas Rangers last season and hit .272 with a .722 OPS. He had 17 homers and 70 RBIs.
Pierzynski started 111 games behind the plate and threw out 24 of 73 base stealers, a solid 33 percent. He is considered a solid receiver and calls pitches effectively.
Pierzynski is a two-time All-Star and has 30 games of playoff experience. He helped lead the White Sox to a World Series title in 2005. Pierzynski also is a lifetime .322 hitter at Fenway Park with a .751 OPS, but he does not have a home run in 121 plate appearances.
The lefthanded-hitting Pierzynski should make for a good match with the righthanded-hitting Ross, whom the Red Sox view as being able to play more than the average backup. The Sox needed lefthanded power with the departure of Saltalamacchia, a switch hitter who did his most damage against righthanded pitching.
Pierzynski turns 37 in December and Ross turns 37 in March, which could lead to injury issues. But Pierzynski has been remarkably durable, starting at least 107 games behind the plate for nine consecutive seasons.
By going with a tandem of older catchers, the Red Sox will not block prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. That was a goal from the start.
Vazquez, 23, finished last season with Triple A Pawtucket. The strong-armed catcher hit .289 for Double A Portland last season and could be major league ready sometime next season. Swihart, 21, was a first-round pick in 2011 and is expected to open the 2014 season in Portland after hitting .298 for High A Salem. He is several years away, but has shown a high ceiling.
Pierzynski is far from a perfect solution. He had a .297 on-base percentage last season thanks to drawing only nine unintentional walks over 529 plate appearances and saw an average of only 3.27 pitches per plate appearance, the lowest in the majors.
There likely will be an offensive drop-off from Saltalamacchia, who hit .273 last season with an .804 OPS.
Pierzynski also has a leaguewide reputation for having a difficult personality, something Red Sox executives said in recent weeks was overstated. But there have been run-ins with opponents and even with teammates. Pierzynski was voted the most hated player in baseball in a 2012 poll by Men’s Journal magazine.
In 2011, Pierzynski exchanged words on the field with White Sox teammate Jake Peavy. The two said later it was an argument that was forgotten. Now Pierzynski will join Peavy with the Red Sox.
Pierzynski played five years with David Ortiz when both were with the Twins and is a player Ortiz long has spoken highly of as a teammate.
Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves was with the White Sox for five years as bullpen coach when Pierzynski was their primary catcher. Nieves offered a strong recommendation, according to insiders.
Nieves wields considerable influence in the Red Sox’ decision-making process.
Pierzynski will be entering a clubhouse with leaders in place and playing for a strong manager in John Farrell. Any personality issues figure to be extinguished quickly.
“His résumé speaks for itself,” Ross told MLB Network Radio. “He’s won a championship. The guy is a really good hitter. I think he should fit in well in our lineup. He’s been around for a long time. I don’t think you can go wrong with a guy like that.”
The Sox rescued Saltalamacchia from baseball obscurity in 2010, obtaining him from the Rangers at the July trade deadline. He was playing in Triple A at the time, a forgotten prospect beset with injuries.
With the Sox, Saltalamacchia developed into a starting catcher in 2012 and helped the team to a World Series championship a year later. Now he has the first long-term contract of his career.
Saltalamacchia’s first foray into free agency was well timed. He was coming off the best season of his career, having hit .273 with a .338 on-base percentage and .466 slugging percentage. Saltalamacchia had 14 home runs, 40 doubles, and 65 RBIs over 121 games.
Saltalamacchia lives in Wellington, Fla., approximately 70 miles from Marlins Park and 32 miles from the team’s spring training complex in Jupiter.
His contract calls for salaries of $6 million, $7 million, and $8 million. He does not have no-trade protection, per team policy.
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The Sox announced that “Sox Pax” and single-game tickets for April and May go on sale Dec. 14 at 10 a.m.