How A.J. Pierzynski's Persona Will Impact Texas Rangers Lineup, Locker Room
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There's something of a belief in professional team sports that every team needs someone who can stir things up on the field and in the locker room.
Perhaps that player provokes the other team, trying to intimidate the opposition or take their focus off the game at hand. He might also challenge teammates, preventing them from losing their competitive edge and becoming complacent.
Such a person isn't typically popular and may even be referred to as a jerk or something else by opposing players and teammates that can't be written here .
That might be what the Texas Rangers had in mind by inking catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract, as reported by MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. The deal is worth $7.5 million, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.
Pierzynski wasn't signed just to be a provocateur, however. There are definitely solid baseball reasons for general manager Jon Daniels to have signed him.
With the departure of Josh Hamilton to the Los Angeles Angels, the Rangers lineup was in need of some left-handed power. While Pierzynski certainly won't replace Hamilton's power (43 home runs this season) all by himself, he is coming off the best home run total of his 15-year career.
Pierzynski hit 28 home runs with 77 RBI this season. He accumulated a .501 slugging percentage and .827 OPS, both of which are also career-high marks.
The Rangers also needed another catcher to pair with Geovany Soto, who shouldn't be counted on as a full-time player at that position. This year, he hit .198 with a .613 OPS. At the very least, Soto could be the right-handed bat in a platoon with Pierzynski. But he'll more likely give the 35-year-old Pierzynski a break, preventing him from having to catch more than 120 games.
Pierzynski isn't going to remind Texas fans of Pudge Rodriguez with his defense behind the plate. He led MLB with 54 wild pitches allowed this season, 12 more than second-place Russell Martin. He also let eight passed balls get by him.
Rangers pitchers might want to make sure they're good at holding runners at first base too, because Pierzynski isn't going to throw many of them out on the basepaths. He threw out 26 percent (27-of-103) of opposing basestealers this season. His 76 stolen bases allowed tied for the third-highest total in the majors.
Pierzynski may see more time at designated hitter as a result, allowing the Rangers to have a better defensive player behind the plate and a left-handed power bat in the lineup. Now that Michael Young is gone, Texas manager Ron Washington will likely use that DH spot to rotate players through the lineup and try to get as many good bats into his batting order as possible.
That could depend on whether or not the Rangers are still interested in free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez, however. The Dallas Morning News' Gerry Fraley reported Texas was showing interest, but the Pierzynski signing may have changed that.
But are the Rangers really bringing in Pierzynski just for his bat?
This is team that could be undergoing something of an identity crisis. The Rangers' best and most identifiable player, Josh Hamilton, is now playing for the Los Angeles Angels. Young, whom many viewed as the face of the franchise and was enormously popular with fans because of his 13-year career in Texas, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.
That's not to say that Hamilton and Young were leaders of the team. Hamilton missed five games this season because of a condition developed from drinking too much caffeine. Young asked to be traded two different times because he was irritated over being asked to change positions.
While neither player may have been a clubhouse leader in terms of making motivational speeches or keeping his teammates in line, a team does tend to take its lead from its best player. The longest-tenured player also has a significant presence.
Who replaces them among the Rangers' current roster?
Adrian Beltre hasn't been that kind of player during his MLB career. Besides, he hates having anyone rub his head. Ian Kinsler might be preoccupied with a position change, as he'll likely move over to first base to accommodate top prospect Jurickson Profar.
Pierzynski could very well step into a leadership role by default. He might have to win those teammates over, especially if any of them were among the players that voted Pierzynski MLB's most hated player in a Men's Journal poll (via USA Today).
But those perceptions will likely change once he becomes a teammate. Rangers fans who may have not liked Pierzynski will surely warm up to him as well. He's a jerk, but hey—he's our jerk! We see that all the time in team sports. If former Boston Red Sox Kevin Youkilis can join the New York Yankees, Pierzynski can fit in with his new team.
As ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett points out, the Rangers have a pretty strong veteran presence on their team, so Pierzynski won't just go in the clubhouse and push anyone around. Besides, Texas is a playoff contender that is a year removed from two consecutive World Series appearances. He'll likely just want to fit in and keep a good thing going.
However, the Rangers did look like a team that became complacent this year. That was a lethargic team which lost the AL West to the Oakland Athletics in the last game of the regular season.
After making it to the World Series twice and losing both times, it would be natural for players to be unenthusiastic about slogging through another 162-game season and two rounds of playoffs to return to the Fall Classic.
But this makes Pierzynski a good fit. He can shake the Rangers out of any malaise that may have developed. That might lead to some conflict along the way, some "that's not how we do things around here" sort of sentiment.
Yet, the former way of doing business no longer applies. The Rangers are undergoing too many changes. It looks like the perfect situation for Pierzynski to step into—and that may be exactly what Daniels has in mind.
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