A.J. Pierzynski was hired by Fox to provide analysis during the postseason, a position that gave him a close-up view of the Red Sox and their run to the World Series title.
The veteran catcher, who was about to become a free agent, used the opportunity to check out the Sox as a possible landing spot. He was impressed with what he saw.
“As a member of the media you learn a lot and you get to see a lot more than you do as a player,” Pierzynski said Wednesday during a conference call.
How the Red Sox prepared for games and the attitude within the clubhouse left an impression. That helped convince him to sign a one-year deal with the Red Sox for $8.25 million.
“It was impossible to say no,” Pierzynski said.
Pierzynski, who turns 37 later this month, said he had multiyear offers from other teams but chose the Red Sox for the opportunity to win at this late stage of his career.
“There were a bunch of teams involved,” he said. “Not only the Red Sox but some other teams. I was thankful there were some other teams out there. Obviously it’s nice to know that you’re wanted. But in the end it came down to wanting to come to Boston. It’s not every day you get to play for the defending World Series champions.”
For Pierzynski, joining the Red Sox should be an easy move. He is familiar with pitching coach Juan Nieves, who was on the White Sox coaching staff for five of the seasons Pierzynski played in Chicago.
Pierzynski also has played with David Ortiz and Jake Peavy during his 16-year career. He spoke to both of them about joining the Sox.
Yes, even Peavy. The two had a disagreement during a game for the White Sox in 2011 and exchanged words. But according to Pierzynski, their friendship is strong.
“I love that people say that Jake and I don’t get along. Jake and I talk all the time and we get along great,” Pierzynski said.
Even a former Red Sox player recommended the move. Pierzynski was in Hawaii on vacation after the season and ran into Mark Kotsay. He asked Pierzynski about his plans and endorsed Boston.
“He was like, ‘Dude, if you got a chance to go to Boston, you’ve got to go.’ Every person I’ve talked to had a positive experience,” Pierzynski said.
Pierzynski has a strong personality, combative at times. But he expects no issues joining the harmonious haven of the Red Sox clubhouse and sharing the position with David Ross.
“I’m just trying to fit in,” he said. “Going to Texas last year, I fit in pretty well. Everybody I’ve talked to and guys I know in the Red Sox clubhouse are great. They’re guys that I’ve known.
“They want to win and it’s all I want to do. It shouldn’t be that hard to fit in. You just try to learn your place in the clubhouse and not step on people’s toes. You find your role on the team and go with it.
“This isn’t my team. This is David Ortiz’s; this is Dustin Pedroia’s. It’s those guys’ team. I’m a piece trying to help them win again.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell acknowledged the issue during an appearance on WEEI.
“[Pierzynski] has the reputation of not being the best guy, but a lot of times when those guys come to your team, you love them,” he said.
The Red Sox, general manager Ben Cherington said, are comfortable with Pierzynski’s defense, citing his strong arm, game-calling, blocking, pitch framing, and handling of pitchers.
“We feel like that’s one of his strengths, not necessarily one of those attributes but the combination of all of those defensive attributes,” Cherington said. “We just think the combination of A.J. and Ross will allow that to be a position of strength for us.”
By signing Pierzynski for one season, the Red Sox created opportunity for 23-year-old Triple A catcher Christian Vazquez and eventually 21-year-old Blake Swihart.
“We really wanted to do two things to the catcher position. We wanted to maintain that position as a strength going into 2014 and also long-term. We looked at several different options,” Cherington said. “We just felt like A.J. represented the best choice for us.”
The Red Sox were willing to retain Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a two-year deal. But Saltalamacchia received three years and $21 million from the Miami Marlins.
Cherington said there were “a number of conversations” with Saltalamacchia’s agent, Jim Munsey. But no deal could be struck.
“We really appreciate everything he did,” Cherington said. “Certainly Salty worked hard and overcame some adversity to become a very good primary catcher.”
Stephen Drew in the mix
Farrell said the Red Sox remain hopeful of retaining shortstop Stephen Drew, a free agent. Because Drew was made a qualifying offer, any team signing him would forfeit a draft pick and that could depress his market. The Red Sox are not engaged with Drew at the moment but that could change if he remains on the market into January . . . Righthander Rubby De La Rosa, who spent most of last season in Triple A, agreed to report early to spring training . . . Farrell revealed that third baseman Garin Cecchini and lefthander Henry Owens would be among the non-roster players invited to spring training . . . John Lackey has been voted the winner of the 24th Tony Conigliaro Award. The honor is presented to a major league player who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit and determination. Members of the Conigliaro family will present the award at the 75th Boston Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s dinner Jan. 23 at the Westin Copley Place in Boston.