Fiery Pierzynski ready to be mentor in Atlanta
Veteran catcher signs one-year deal to back up talented prospect Bethancourt
ATLANTA -- Throughout his long Major League career, A.J. Pierzynski has prided himself as an intense competitor who has desired to win everything but a popularity contest. His win-at-all-costs approach has maddened opponents and occasionally rubbed his own teammates the wrong way.
But as the 38-year-old Pierzynski nears the end of his career, he is not interested in altering his approach.
"I'll do whatever it takes to help my team win," Pierzynski said. "If you need me to fight the guy, I'll fight the guy. I'll do whatever it takes because I want to win the game. For three hours, I don't care who is pitching [against my team]. Mark Buehrle is one of my good friends. But when we're facing him, I want to kill him. Then afterwards, we'll go out and get a beer."
Pierzynski's personality could actually be a welcome addition to a relatively young Atlanta clubhouse that lacked energy throughout the disappointing 2014 season. In their search for a backup catcher, the Braves thought enough of Pierzynski to give him a one-year, $2 million deal (with up to $700,000 in incentives) that was finalized upon the completion of a physical performed in Atlanta on Wednesday.
A two-time All-Star who totaled 44 homers from 2012-13, Pierzynski agreed to join the Braves with the understanding that one of his primary responsibilities will be to serve as a mentor to Christian Bethancourt, the talented prospect who is set to become Atlanta's primary catcher this year.
"I'm 38 years old and physically, I can still play every day," Pierzynski said. "I have no limitations as far as not being able to play. But at a certain point in time, you also want to help other people, and they have a kid here that from everything I've heard and read is extraordinarily talented. You want to help him get the most out of that talent along with the pitching staff and the other people in the organization."
Pierzynski is coming off a disappointing season that began shortly after he signed a one-year, $8.25 million deal with the defending World Series champion Red Sox. His personality rubbed some of Boston's veterans the wrong way, and after hitting .254 with just four homers through 72 games, the veteran catcher was released.
"We didn't get it done collectively," Pierzynski said. "People can point their fingers, like they did from the first day I was there, that it was all my fault. That's fine. I will take the blame. But the people I was around and that I trusted and talked to there, we had a lot of conversations about a lot of different things. At no point did the people that I talked to say, 'It was all your fault' or whatever. So that's just water under the bridge."
Three weeks later, Pierzynski signed with the Cardinals, who had recently learned Yadier Molina would be lost for at least another month while recovering from right thumb surgery.
Pierzynski batted .265 with a .663 OPS in the 21 games he played before Molina returned to assume his role as St. Louis' primary catcher. More importantly, even after he served in a backup role during the regular season's final month, the veteran backstop proved to be a better fit within the Cards' clubhouse.
"I've done the [catching] 130 games a year for a long time, and last year when I went to St. Louis, it was the first time I didn't play every day," Pierzynski said. "It was eye-opening and I was like, 'Well, this can still work.' You still have to find a way to help other people when you're not contributing on the field. It was cool to be able to go to St. Louis and do that."
Now, Pierzynski is looking forward to assuming the same role with the Braves.
"I just look forward to meeting new guys," Pierzynski said. "Every team you go to has a different clubhouse and a different structure and a different atmosphere. The biggest thing in the clubhouse is that you have to know what your role is on that team and what your job is on that team. As long as guys understand that and go about it, then everything should be fine."