Many Cardinal fans thought the 2014 season was a lost cause when All-Star catcher Yadier Molina went down with a thumb injury on July 9. Back-up catcher Tony Cruz’s all-around game suddenly hit a decline when he gained more playing time and the trading deadline market for catchers was slim at best.
After a four-game losing skid in late July, the Cardinals decided to shake up the clubhouse by signing veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski to a 1-year, league minimum deal. The 37 year-old catcher had been released by the Boston Red Sox three weeks prior to signing with St. Louis, but switching sides with 2013 World Series foes proved to be a vital short-term decision.
The veteran brought a flamboyant personality and experience to the clubhouse, but his numbers didn’t account for too much of an offensive spark immediately. Pierzynski slashed a .244 batting average with 1 home run and 6 RBIs as a Cardinal, but could occasionally execute in surprising situations, collecting two pinch hits and throwing out two base runners behind the plate.
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After starting 20 games at catcher, Pierzynski inevitably lost playing time to Molina upon his return on August 29. The 2005 World Series champion was one of five catchers used during the Cardinals regular season and helped St. Louis stay in NL Central contention during a stretch in which the Cardinals had lost six of their last nine July games.
Pierzynski’s 17 year experience allowed pitchers and hitters to relax in Molina’s seven week absence. The 2005 World Series champion took a slight workload off veterans, as Matt Holliday became a larger offensive force down the stretch, while trade-deadline acquisition John Lackey settled in St. Louis quickly with the likes of his former teammate. Despite such successes, Pierzynski’s future plans are unpredictable after being left off the Cardinals’ 2014 NLDS roster.
From the Cardinals standpoint, nothing needs to be fixed at catcher unless Yadier Molina sustains another long-term injury. The three-time Platinum Glove winner is aging and may need more rest, so it is possible that Tony Cruz may see more playing time in 2015. This dilemma will likely end Pierzynski’s campaign with the Cardinals, as the team could get creative with younger options in the case of an emergency.
The 2005 World Series champion was one of five catchers used during the Cardinals regular season and helped St. Louis stay in NL Central contention during a July losing skid
The Cardinals recently added minor league backstop Cody Stanley to the 40 man roster, who hit .283 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs for minor league affiliate Springfield and will likely begin this season in Memphis. If an injury is sustained prior to the season, an experienced catcher like Geovany Soto could make sense on a single year leash. But the Cardinals are insistent on keeping Tony Cruz as the primary backup to Molina, making such options less realistic.
Needless to say, it was interesting to see two of MLB’s most experienced catchers on the same roster. But Pierzynski will hope to find a catcher vacancy as free agency progresses. The two time all-star has spoken to the Atlanta Braves about the opportunity to back-up Evan Gattis, while he has also been tossed around in rumors with the Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs.
The left-handed hitting veteran could begin the 2015 season with starting or backup responsibilities. Regardless he has expressed the desire to play for another playoff contender. After a lengthy career with six teams and multiple accomplishments, it wouldn’t be surprising if A.J. Pierzynski retired as a Cardinal.