Earlier today, I wrote the following about A.J. Pierzynski, who the Red Sox might pursue as a replacement for Jarrod Saltalamacchia:
Still, he's a warm body at catcher, and perhaps that's all Boston's other offseason plans allow or call for. You can always do worse.
Upon further review, though, I'm really not sure the Red Sox could do worse.
Let's talk risk and reward. Typically, when it comes to free agency, risk is associated with financial risk. It's expressed in terms of years and dollars. Pierzynski, at least by this measurement, carries little risk. He cost the Texas Rangers $7.5 million for one year coming off a career year with the White Sox. After hitting just .272/.297/.425 in 2013--his OPS dropping by better than 100 points--there's little chance he gets even that much in 2014.
Pierzynski, however, comes with a different sort of risk. One that this Boston Red Sox team should want no part of. After all, he's long since earned the reputation as one of the game's most hated players. Not just by fans or players of other teams, either. No, Pierzynski often rubbed his own teammates the wrong way as well, particularly his own pitchers. Jake Peavy could tell the Red Sox about that himself -- he was no stranger to conflict with the controversial catcher during his short time in Chicago.
It's hard to quantify the value of clubhouse chemistry. And certainly that particular aspect of 2013 likely gets a bit too much play compared to the Red Sox simply being a team full of good players. If, say, Xander Bogaerts -- a cheap, hugely talented player -- had a reputation as a bit of a clubhouse problem coming up through the system (and I cannot stress enough that Bogaerts has no such reputation) then it would still make sense for the Red Sox to risk his presence given his potential value.
For someone like Pierzynski, though? Why bother?
Pierzynski has a career line of .283/.322/.428, but has only reached that .750 mark in one of his last four seasons. His defense is questionable to say the least, and his free-swinging ways stand in stark contrast to Boston's team philosophy, with 2005 representing the only year of his career that he's seen even just 3.5 pitches per plate appearance. As a lefty, his pull power isn't even conducive to Fenway park, to boot.
What's the upside with Pierzynski? It seems like a lot to ask for him to replicate his 2012 season, particularly at 37 years of age. And that was the only year since 2006 that either Fangraphs or Baseball Reference had him worth two-or-more wins. If we're rolling the dice on career years they may as well pick up John Buck and hope he feels like producing at 2010 levels again.
More realistically, though, the Red Sox are probably better off just giving Dan Butler a shot in the event that their plans don't allow for any significant addition (or return, in the case of Jarrod Saltalamacchia) behind the plate. His floor might be lower than Pierzynski's at the plate, but taking all things under consideration, he's not nearly so great a risk. And that's coming from someone who doesn't expect much out of Butler at all.
Usually when talking about free agents, it comes down to how much they're asking for. In this case, though, no matter how low the price, the Red Sox should just give A.J. Pierzynski a miss.