Wetmore: On the 10-year anniversary of the A.J. trade: Want him back?
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Thursday marked the 10-year anniversary that Terry Ryan and company pulled off the A.J. Pierzynski heist. As it played out, the trade that sent the catcher to San Francisco (and cleared room for Joe Mauer) was improbably lopsided.
Pierzynski had three seasons of team control remaining at the time of the deal. For that service, the Giants sent packing Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser. The book has long since closed on the deal and the Twins are clear winners.
(In fairness to Giants fans, San Francisco has won two World Series titles since that time after cutting ties with the catcher. No logical person will argue that the result of the trade was a net positive for the Giants. Not even this guy.)
When I started researching for this post, I badly wanted to ride shotgun on the Pat Reusse-driven 'bring back A.J.' bus. I just can't climb aboard, though, not for the contract he likely will command on the open market. One year for $5 million? Sure, I'd do that. I think teams will find him worth more than that.
Pierzynski would still be a serviceable player at age 37. The left-handed hitter batted .272/.297/.425 over in one season with the Rangers. Last year, he had approximately twice as many plate appearances against righties, and his rate statistics are similar against pitchers of each handedness. He has a little more home-run power against righties and strikes out a bit more against lefties.
I'd love the story. Selfishly, I'd love that he'd liven up the clubhouse when the days get long in midsummer. And perhaps most of all I'd love to witness the 180-degree reversal most fans would take.
Envision the Target Field loud speaker announcement and subsequent crowd response:
Batting sixth, starting at catcher, A!J! Pier-zynski!
Nothing about Pierzynski's numbers scared me away from boarding the bring-him-back bus, and I wouldn't firmly oppose the signing if it happened.
Josmil Pinto is the reason I wouldn't recommend, for competitive purposes, that the Twins reunite with their former catcher. We don't have enough Major League data to project how Pinto will hit at the highest level. But his minor league seasons in 2012 and 2013 offer plenty of intrigue.
Pinto gets on base, walks at a decent rate, limits strikeouts and hits for power, relative to other catchers. An inordinate number of his batted balls fell in for hits, so perhaps his minor league numbers were due for some regression. I'm in favor of allowing Pinto to seek his level with 500 MLB plate appearances.
Some contend the Twins should use Pierzynski as a left-handed platoon-mate, to ease Pinto into an eventual starting role. But - if you'll pardon the cheap shot - that's the only context in which you'll see "Twins" and "contend" in the same sentence this year.
In a season in which the team more than likely won't compete for the playoffs, why not just let Pinto, who will turn 25 on opening day, take a full season of plate appearances?
I'm more curious to see what he can do in a full year in the Majors than I am to squeeze marginal wins out of a catching platoon. Furthermore, if the team doesn't shell out the money it will take to fill out a quality pitching staff, does it matter much if Pinto calls a good game? I'll let the results dictate the effectiveness of the process in this one. If, after a year, there are defensive shortcomings that Pinto can't overcome with his bat, then I'm willing to cede that I was wrong to pass on Pierzynski.
For now, let Pinto play and let A.J. find a contending suitor elsewhere.
It's a shame, because a Twins-Pierzynski reunion on a cheap one-year deal would be a fun story.