On Friday, the Texas Rangers confirmed they’ve signed longtime Chicago White Sox catcher AJ Peirzynsky to a one year, $7.5M deal. The Rangers had a gaping hole at catcher, with only Geovany Soto a realistic option to serve as their 2013 primary backstop. Pierzynsky, 36, brings a fiery personality, poor defense and pitch framing, and a fringey-power bat to the Lone Star state.
Pierzynski was a well-known entity coming into 2012, having completed 13 prior seasons. He’s always generated above-average power for a catcher, but was considered long past his prime. Much to everyone’s surprise, 2012 stood out at Pierzynski’s career year. He finished with 27 HRs, a .349 wOBA and 3.4 WAR. He hit a lot more fly balls than in the past; his GB/FB% dropped from 1.77 (2011) to 1.17, while those fly balls went out of the park nearly three times as often as in 2011 (6.5% to 18.6 HR/FB%). Despite his impressive surge, no one should expect similar performance from Pierzynsky in 2013; he’s amassed 6227 career ABs, and his career line should carry heavy weight in forecasting his 2013 performance. He should revert back to his career norms of 8-9 HRs, 40-50 RBIs and a 1.5-2.0 WAR. Texas will be happy with that performance based on his one-year contract.
Pierzynski’s signing does raise the question of what general manager Jon Daniels will do next. Texas led the American League in 2012 runs and was roundly considered to be the league’s best team until their September collapse. They’re a veteran team, smartly built with impressive prospects that are blocked at key positions (Jurickson Profar at SS, Mike Olt at 3B). While Yu Darvish impressively heads the Rangers starting rotation, there’s a great need to beef up the rotation, first base and the outfield.
The Rangers were the runners-up in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, lost their centerfielder Josh Hamilton to the division-rival Los Angeles Angels, and missed on trade targets Jamie Shields and RA Dickey. If Daniels wants to capitalize on the peak production seasons of cornerstones Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andus and Ian Kinsler, he’ll need to find positional and pitching upgrades in what is a less than attractive free agent market.
The Rangers covet Arizona Diamondbacks’ outfielder Justin Upton. However, with the Diamondbacks acquisition of shortstop Didi Gregorious, there’s no obvious trade fit between the clubs. Texas is rumored to be in early discussions with free agent outfielder Michael Bourne. While Bourne obviously fills the Rangers’ centrefield needs, they’re not likely to cave to agent Scott Boras’ demands for a $75M+ contract for the 30-year old speedster. If they can secure Bourne to a short-term deal (possible, given the limited options Bourne has to find a centrefield gig at this point in the offseason), there is a fit here.
The club’s bigger need is on the pitching side. The starting pitching staff was partly responsible for the club’s 2012 collapse. After Darvish and Derek Holland, there are few trusted rotation options for 2013. The Rangers may pursue free agent Kyle Lohse, as his advanced peripherals indicate the early-thirties pitcher has achieved a new, sustainable performance level to justify a three or four year contract. Beyond him Daniels would be wise to parlay his shortstop surplus, flipping Andrus or Profar as the centerpiece to a deal for a dependable starting pitcher. Interesting targets would be the Indians’ Justin Masterson, the Mets’ Johan Santana or Cubs’ Matt Garza. These teams have little chance of competing in 2013, while all have a great need for young hitters to supplement their rebuilding efforts.
The AL West has become a highly competitive division, with the Angels’ free-spending ways and the Athletics’ budding young core. What once looked like the Rangers’ division has become a contested battle ground and there are clear deficiencies to be filled if the Rangers are to bounce back in 2013.