Pierzynski, White Sox open to new deal
Sides will wait until after Saturday to begin negotiations
CHICAGO -- A chance still exists for A.J. Pierzynski to be working with White Sox pitchers at Camelback Ranch just after Valentine's Day, returning to this familiar place for a seventh season as the franchise's starting backstop.
But any sort of new deal definitely will not be arrived at before the exclusive five-day negotiating period between both sides following the World Series expires on Saturday.
"We both agreed to let things play out and take it from there," Pierzynski told MLB.com from his Florida home on Thursday. "We both agreed to talk again, and I'm sure we will.
"The door has not been shut by me or by them. There are no hard feelings from me toward them, and I hope there's none from them toward me. Something still could be done, but if not, hopefully there's another team who will want me."
Pierzynski hasn't given much thought to those other possibilities, focusing more on family time with his wife and two kids than his baseball future. Plenty of those discussions will come about starting Sunday, when teams aside from the White Sox can make calls.
Make no mistake, Pierzynski finds himself in a much better position entering his second foray into free agency compared to his situation back in 2004. Pierzynski was released after a somewhat turbulent season with the Giants, despite setting a career-high 77 RBIs, and basically took a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the White Sox after phone calls and a meeting with general manager Ken Williams.
It was one of the best moves made by Williams in the past half-decade. The White Sox won the World Series title during Pierzynski's first season, and over the past six years in Chicago, Pierzynski not only has emerged as a team leader and a steady force in handling pitchers but also as a staple of the city's sports landscape.
He's infinitely durable, with no Major League trips to the disabled list and an impressive streak of 1,000 innings caught for nine straight seasons. Only Jason Kendall can lay claim to that same feat during that same time period. Pierzynski holds a career .284 average with 120 home runs, and despite a painfully slow start to the 2010 season for the intense competitor, his .364 mark from Aug. 12 to the season's conclusion stood as the best in the American League.
"My year didn't go completely like I wanted it to, but I ended up strong and feel like I'm in a good situation," said Pierzynski, who finished at .270 with 56 RBIs. "As a team, I wish things could have gone better, but we did well and got the excitement for baseball back in Chicago.
"Everyone knows how I feel about the White Sox, the fans and the city of Chicago. At the same time, I need to do what's best for me and my family and the White Sox have to do what's best for the organization going forward.
"That's how baseball works, it's a business," Pierzynski added. "Both parties do what's best for them and hope it works out."
With the White Sox already picking up contractual options on Matt Thornton and Ramon Castro, they have more than $79 million committed to 12 players for the 2011 season. Carlos Quentin, John Danks, Tony Pena and Bobby Jenks stand as arbitration-eligible, while the club has six other free agents aside from Pierzynski.
Numerous personnel decisions need to be made before the White Sox return to Pierzynski, such as figuring out the free-agent situation with Paul Konerko, finding a closer or bringing back Jenks, adding another veteran reliever and looking for a left-handed-hitting run producer. The White Sox don't have a ton of money to work with to fill those numerous spots, even if the payroll total checks in somewhere around last year's $104 million mark.
Tyler Flowers could be given the White Sox reins behind the plate, moving Pierzynski to the top of the catchers' free-agent class with Victor Martinez and John Buck. It's a situation Pierzynski understands but hoped to have avoided.
"Every player, I would think, especially a player that has been on a team as long as I have and had that long relationship with a team, would say, 'Why couldn't we sit down and get it done?'" Pierzynski said. "But I understand the business and the way it works. Different things have to fall in place, and other players have to be signed. But like I said, there's no ill-will or hard feelings."
Both sides originally talked back in Spring Training but decided to play out the 2010 season in Pierzynski's finale of a three-year, $18.35 million deal, during which Pierzynski achieved 10-and-5 no-trade veto power. Teams such as the Red Sox, Rays, Rangers and Marlins, to name a few, could be looking for a catcher, but Pierzynski made absolutely clear Thursday how he has not ruled out any team as potential future employers.
Location is a factor for Pierzynski, although he has played in the Midwest and the West, was born in the East and has pretty much seen every city in the country during his decade-long career. Spring Training in Florida would be an "added bonus, but not a must." That "must" for Pierzynski falls in the column of signing on with a winning team or a team with a chance for success.
Winning was always the primary focus during Pierzynski's time on the South Side of Chicago. Even with the exclusive negotiating period expiring without anything close to a deal, Pierzynski still would like to tackle that challenge again with the White Sox.
"Just a special time, the best six years I've had as a professional player," Pierzynski said. "Both my kids were born during my time there, and they don't know anything else.
"When I talk to them, my son is asking when we are going back to Chicago for White Sox games. It will be an adjustment if it doesn't work out, but it has been a great run both in my personal life and in terms of baseball memories."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.