In this afternoon's edition of "well, here's a name you can sink your teeth into because the Rangers are showing some indication of interest, and because the Rangers kind of need some help at this position," ESPNChicago's Bruce Levine is reporting that A.J. Pierznsyki and his agent were/are scheduled to meet with Rangers brass in Arlington this afternoon/evening. This isn't the first time that Pierzynski has been tied to the Rangers thus far this off-season, but it's the first we've heard of the two sides actually getting together to discuss a possible fit/contract, and to the extent that we can categorize this as the Rangers making legitimate progress towards upgrading their catching situation, it sounds like the Rangers could finally address one of their areas of immediate need sooner rather than later.
Pierzynski is an interesting case in player valuation because he possesses the characteristics of someone with major downside potential (that is, a full-time catcher who turns 36 years old in 12 days), yet posted up a career-best offensive season in 2012 (520 PA, .278/.326/.501, 118 wRC+) and is coming off his first three-plus-win campaign since 2003. There will invariably be some talk of Pierzynski being an ideal left-handed power bat replacement for Josh Hamilton because he popped 27 home runs from the left side of the plate last season, but the concern there is that Pierzynski totaled just 17 home runs in 1,003 plate appearances from 2010-11, and even though there may be a qualitative explanation for that disparity *, Pierzynski's career arc and the aging curve are more suggestive of a 10-15 home run player per 500 plate appearances from this point forward.
[* According to an interview conducted by the Chicago Tribune back in August, Pierzynski felt "lost at times" during his down 2010 season, and in 2011 he began working with former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant hitting coach Mike Gellinger to straighten out the kinks in his offensive game, as well as embarking upon a new workout program directed by White Sox staff. Pierzynski says that his new approach finally began to yield results during the summer of 2011, but he suffered a broken wrist in mid-August 2011, and wasn't quite right again until the 2011-12 off-season. I'll leave it to someone else to determine whether Pierzynski's "new approach" is a permanent fix which should be reflected in his projections on a going-forward basis, or whether his likeliest near-term outcome is regression to or below his career offensive norms.]
I don't profess to be the greatest Pierzynski fan in the world, and I'm skittish over the prospect of handing out a multi-year deal -- mind you, a deal with a potential AAV around $8-9 million -- to a catcher who's closer to 40 than he is 30, but the Rangers' current catching situation is such that you would feel significantly better about a catching tandem comprised of Pierzynski and Geovany Soto than you would about a catching tandem comprised of Soto and Eli Whiteside. The Rangers appear to value quality receiving skills -- pitch framing, baserunner handling, and game calling, as well as rapport and chemistry with the pitching staff -- over maxed-out offense from their catchers, but offense still matters, and the offensive downside potential of a Soto/Whiteside tandem is terrifying enough that it makes some sense for Texas to make a serious run at Pierzynski.
That, however, assumes that the money/contractual terms he's seeking are roughly congruent with the amount of value the Rangers believe he's capable of producing over the life of a possible contract with Texas ... and that hasn't proven to be the case with Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Russell Martin, or any of their other healthy, open-market targets thus far this off-season. Soto was a comparatively cheap re-sign, while Joakim Soria is a rehab project who may not produce legitimate value until 2014. Pierzynski's certainly going to be lower on the guaranteed dollars spectrum than guys like Napoli or Hamilton or Greinke, but it remains to be seen just how far they're willing to go here -- or, for that matter, whether today's meeting will even result in an actual offer.