While fans at this weekend's SoxFest have given general manager Rick Hahn positive reviews for adding young talent like Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson dating to last July, many still see one major negative.
Instead of being OK with Josh Phegley, Tyler Flowers or Rule 5 pickup Adrian Neito behind the plate, a sizable faction still can't accept the White Sox's decision to let popular catcher A.J. Pierzynski exit via free agency following the 2012 season.
In Q&A sessions at the Palmer House Hilton on Friday and Saturday, Hahn was peppered with questions about the decision to cut ties with Pierzynski, who played with the Texas Rangers last season and is now with the Boston Red Sox.
"Look, we lost 99 games last year and these people have come out in the dead of winter to show their support for the team," Hahn said Saturday. "But at the same time, they have some questions on their mind. It's completely understandable.
"Certainly, it's not a surprise we heard about the catching situation. There are going to be questions about A.J. when you get a group like this together. It's not a surprise."
Don't be surprised if the 37-year-old Pierzynski returns to the White Sox' TV booth when his playing days end, but he is not coming back as a player.
For now, the Sox are sticking with Flowers and Phegley, while Neito seems to have little or no chance of making the 25-man roster after playing Class A ball last year for the Washington Nationals.
Flowers opened the 2013 season as Pierzynski's replacement, but he lost the starting job in early July, had season-ending shoulder surgery Sept. 5 and finished with a .195/.247/.355 hitting line in 84 games.
Phegley came up from Class AAA Charlotte and took over for Flowers, and he looked like a keeper after hitting 3 homers and driving in 8 runs in his first five games. But like Flowers, Phegley's bat disappeared and he finished with a .206/.223/.299 line in 65 games.
Hahn wanted to make a change behind the plate this winter but came up empty.
"Frankly, thus far this off-season there has been one catcher change teams that we felt sort of fit our mold," Hahn said. "He (Brian McCann) wound up getting $85 million. After McCann went to New York, we could have pursued some guys who were a little bit older, a little more established, given them a short-term deal and if they performed at the level they have historically, and if our guys performed at the very low level they did last did last year, it would have represented a modest improvement.
"But that wasn't a long-term solution; that was a fan deal. That was not a part of the core we're trying to grow."
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 15, and for now Flowers and Phegley still are the Sox' top two catchers, although not necessarily in that order.
"If you go back and look at all of our moves, our major moves, that we've made since about last year's trade deadline, they've been with the aim towards having a long-term solution, something that is going to grow with this core that we're developing here," Hahn said. "So we have Tyler, who has about 300 plate appearances, many of them with an injured shoulder, and we have Phegley, who had 200 or so plate appearances for his first time in the big leagues.
"Conceivably, if they can get back to doing what they were doing in the minors or what our scouts saw and our player-development people saw, they could work their way into being part of that core.
"Or we could have gone out and gotten a short-term Band-Aid, some guy over 30 and I could have stood there and said, 'Look, we addressed it.' It just wasn't in the tenor of the long-term solutions we wanted.
"As we sit here today, we'll have Flowers, Phegley, Nieto and we'll see if one of them can grow into an answer. I think Tyler and Josh know they're fortunate to have another opportunity. If it doesn't work, we won't hesitate to go out and continue to search for that long-term solution."
Phegley, a sandwich pick (No. 38 overall) in the 2009 draft, is thrilled to be getting another look.
"You definitely want to have that confidence, that feeling from the organization that they believe in you," he said. "I think they've shown that. With Tyler and myself, just showing the faith in us that we can get it done, that they've haven't given up on us, it means a lot. Hopefully we can produce for them."
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