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posted: 8/27/2012 9:39 PM

Pierzynski's run with Sox could be nearing end

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  • White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, an extremely popular figure on the South Side who brings his unique brand of skills and pugnacious attitude to every game, will be a free agent after this season. In this photo taken Saturday, Pierzynski has just been ejected from the game against the Mariners by plate umpire Lance Barrett, while White Sox manager Robin Ventura carries on the argument.

      White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, an extremely popular figure on the South Side who brings his unique brand of skills and pugnacious attitude to every game, will be a free agent after this season. In this photo taken Saturday, Pierzynski has just been ejected from the game against the Mariners by plate umpire Lance Barrett, while White Sox manager Robin Ventura carries on the argument.
    Associated Press

 
 

It was two years ago that A.J. Pierzynski came within an eyelash of signing with the Dodgers as a free agent.

But the White Sox snagged Adam Dunn, re-signed Paul Konerko and suddenly they were "all in" and back in the market for Pierzynski.

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The Sox brought him back for two years and $8 million total, and Pierzynski remains a very popular figure on the South Side.

Now, Pierzynski is again facing free agency, but this time it's after a career year at the age of 35 -- and Pierzynski could find himself being offered two years at double the $4 million average he collected the last two seasons.

And that's why you have to wonder if Pierzynski's time on the South Side is nearly over.

The reality is Tyler Flowers deserves a chance to play, and he'll never get that with Pierzynski in front of him making big money.

There's never been any question about Flowers' defense, and many pitchers on the staff actually prefer throwing to Flowers over Pierzynski because he calls such a good game.

Whether Flowers can hit enough is a question, one the Sox haven't answered because of Pierzynski's presence, but Flowers' game-tying home run Saturday and game-winning blast Sunday certainly opened some eyes.

This probably isn't a surprise to White Sox GM Ken Williams, who insisted Flowers be part of the trade when the Sox sent Javy Vazquez to Atlanta.

So would the Sox part ways with Pierzynski and install Flowers as the starter next season?

It's not that simple.

First, it depends on how much Pierzynski wants and for how many years. It wouldn't make sense for the Sox to offer more than a year and probably not at the money the catcher would be wise to seek.

Pierzynski would be a fool not to ask for at least $8 million a year for two years. He might not get it, but it's worth asking when you've caught 1,000 innings for 11 straight seasons and this year lead the league -- among catchers -- in homers, RBI and OPS.

But keep in mind that Pierzynski is a Jerry Reinsdorf favorite -- and that matters as much as any other factor.

Another dilemma for Williams is figuring out how to get more left-handed if he replaces Pierzynski with the right-handed hitting Flowers.

The Sox are already right-handed in right field (Alex Rios), left field (Dayan Viciedo), first base (Paul Konerko), second base (Gordon Beckham) and shortstop (Alexei Ramirez), and Flowers would mean at least six right-handed bats next season.

Designated hitter Adam Dunn and leadoff man Alejandro De Aza are the only left-handed batters currently penciled in for 2013, and right-handed batting Kevin Youkilis has a club option for $13 million the Sox probably think is pricey.

It doesn't mean they won't ponder bringing back Youkilis at a lower price, but he can make more on the open market than he would with the Sox, assuming they decline that option. Youkilis might even consider a return to Boston if Bobby Valentine doesn't.

Youkilis or not, as hard as it will be to find a left-handed hitting third baseman, Flowers in the lineup would likely mean that the Sox have seven right-handed bats next season.

That is a factor in Pierzynski's favor, but not enough to pay him what he could make selling himself in free agency, especially since some pitchers really like Flowers and some on the coaching staff feel the same way.

The Sox have a lot of tough calls to make while always keeping in mind the financial implications.

That will be only part of the decision on a catcher who has caught more games in a White Sox uniform than all but Ray Schalk, Sherm Lollar and Carlton Fisk.

It's more complicated than that. Then again, when A.J. Pierzynski is involved, it's always more complicated than that.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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