Reportedly the Rangers have signed veteran free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million. Assuming the figure is correct, the Rangers have found themselves a cheap #1 catcher to split time with Geovany Soto, who otherwise would have been sharing duties with the light-hitting Eli Whiteside.
Before his breakout contract season of 2012, Pierzynski posted a triple slash line of .278/.317/.413 between 2004-2011. His wRC+ of 87, in that time, ranks 8th out of all catchers who have not since retired.
Despite the reality that AJP’s defense is not a particular strength, this move signals what most of us could have reasoned about a week ago, and that’s that the Rangers weren’t exactly comfortable rolling with a catching tandem featuring two players, Soto and Whiteside, that have a realistic chance at being replacement-level in 2013.
Because it’s only a one-year deal, it gives the Rangers some flexibility in making a few smaller transactions moving forward. If we’re looking at WAR as a business model, $7.5 million is the basic equivalent to 1.5 Wins Above Replacement. Last year, Pierzynski was worth 3.4 fWAR, which equates to $17 million worth of value. In essence, a one-year commitment for $7.5 million certainly gives the potential for a large sum of surplus value, even if A.J. doesn’t equal the production he generated in 2012.
From a cosmetic standpoint, Pierzynski’s presence in the lineup gives the Rangers an extra left-handed bat to go along with David Murphy and Leonys Martin. And although I’m not a huge believer in splits unless a right-handed hitter drastically underperforms against right-handed pitching, it doesn’t hurt the makeup of the team to have a serviceable lefty who will, conservatively, give you something like .265/.305/.415 in 2013. If you take The Ballpark in Arlington into account, Pierzynski could deliver something around 15 home runs. It’s not Mike Napoli or anything, but I’d be fine with that.
If we’re talking about conservative projections, I see no reason why A.J. couldn’t deliver something in the range of 2.0-2.5 wins in 2013, which would bump the Rangers expected win total of 82-85 somewhere closer to the 87-win plateau. Almost assuredly that would not be enough to make the playoffs, but it’s a small step towards a greater net gain.
With catching solidified, the Rangers will now look to improve their pitching staff, likely with a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and by adding an arm or two in relief. If they happen to sign Nick Swisher, or make a trade for a middle-of-the-order bat, it would deliver us an extra 3-4 wins, and again make us legitimate contenders, not only in the American League West, but for the World Series.