In a move that wouldn’t have seemed likely a few weeks ago, the St. Louis Cardinals are reportedly finalizing a contract with 17-year major-league veteran A.J. Pierzynski. The catcher, who has played for the Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, and Boston Red Sox during the course of his career, is expected to join the Cardinals as quickly as possible at Wrigley Field. He’ll be flying in from Cooperstown, New York, where he was planning to attend the Hall of Fame inductions on Saturday. (Frank Thomas, his teammate on the 2005 World Champion Chicago White Sox team, is going into the Hall.)
Earlier this month, after Yadier Molina went on the disabled list with a hand injury, the Cardinals passed on the opportunity to pick up Pierzynski after he had been designated for assignment by the Red Sox, as they instead opted to pick up veteran catcher George Kottaras. The Cards’ thought at that time was that Molina’s backup, Tony Cruz, would be well-equipped to fill the starter’s role, even if he wasn’t quite as talented defensively or as a hitter. That wasn’t necessarily a smart assumption, seeing as Cruz hit only .200 while Molina was on the DL last year. Cruz has gone on to be no better as the starter this year, hitting just .161 since Molina went on the disabled list back on July 10.
Adding Pierzynski to the mix is a major risk for the Cardinals. He’s widely been talked about as one of the biggest clubhouse cancers in baseball, and reports indicated that his behavior around his teammates was one of the major reasons he was DFA’d by the Red Sox, citing incidents where he spent lots of time staring at his phone during games, on one occasion even doing so while a starting pitcher was having a meltdown several feet away in the clubhouse.
On top of that, Pierzynski is considered to be a poor defensive catcher, and he could create problems with the Cardinals’ young pitching staff. He certainly didn’t help matters in Boston, where the pitching staff dealt with rather significant issues while he was behind the plate.
It’s a bit surprising that the Cardinals decided to go for Pierzynski now, and it’s pretty telling of how desperate they believe their own situation to be. Manager Mike Matheny should know best about the risks associated with Pierzynski, having replaced him as the San Francisco Giants’ catcher in 2005 after Pierzynski had a miserable season in the Bay Area and made himself one of the most hated players in franchise history. It will be crucial for Matheny to make sure things stay under control and that Pierzynski doesn’t allow things to get out of hand.
To make room for Pierzynski on the Cardinals’ roster, Kottaras is expected to be designated for assignment. After being picked up on waivers following Molina’s injury, the 31-year-old started one game and came in off the bench in another three, going 1-for-5 at the plate. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold reported that Kottaras was packing his bags and moving out of the clubhouse on Friday in Chicago.