CHICAGO – Replacing veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski on the field is statistically quantifiable for the White Sox.
General manager Rick Hahn in particular took a calculated risk in choosing to let Pierzynski, 36, leave via free agency, entrusting the starting job to a somewhat unproven Tyler Flowers. Somehow, whether it’s Flowers or a combination of the Sox’s hitters, the Sox will find a way to replace Pierzynski’s offensive production last season (27 home runs, 77 RBIs and 133 hits).
“All the guys from the ’05 [World Series title] team hold a special place in our heart,” Hahn said. “ … All those guys will always have a special spot for each of us, not to mention a guy like A.J. who was with us for eight years and had a tremendous amount of success.”
Where it becomes murky for the Sox in replacing Pierzynski is his role as an on-field instigator. Pierzynski has a knack for agitating opponents and certainly has never been afraid to voice any opinions to umpires while behind the plate. That, more than anything, will be a tougher void to fill for the Sox.
“It already is weird being here without A.J.,” first baseman Paul Konerko said. “Usually by now he’s wearing you out about something. I talked to him [Jan. 11 and 12] and he was at Rangers Fest. Not the same ring. It will be odd not having him.”
Pierzynski always held the respect of his Sox teammates on the field, not only for the numbers he put up year-over-year, despite the grind of catching almost every day, but his willingness to speak up and defend against any perceived slight.
“He’s elite, he’s one of the best and he’s done it for a long time,” pitcher Chris Sale said. “I was very fortunate to be able to, at such an early stage of my career, to link up with a backstop like him.”
Looking at the Sox’s roster, it’s hard to envision a Gordon Beckham or an Alex Rios filling the on-field intangibles Pierzynski brought the past eight years to the South Side. Beckham acknowledged during SoxFest two weeks ago that will be the hardest thing to replicate after Pierzynski’s departure, because it’s an innate attribute and few, if any of the Sox have personalities that lend themselves to being an on-field agitator.
“No, I don’t think anyone can play like A.J.,” Beckham said. “A.J.’s one of kind, and that’s kind of what he does. He pushes buttons. … There’s a bunch of guys that aren’t like that. That’s good and bad, but I want to say it’s good. There’s not a focus on any other stuff. It’s all on winning.”
Of course, Pierzynski’s on-field persona didn’t exactly go away once in the clubhouse and while no Sox player would openly admit it, his personality worn thin on some of his teammates. Although his actions off the field won’t be missed, it’s hard to deny that Pierzynski’s unique style will be extremely difficult to replicate.
“I don’t think anybody is worried about filling his shoes off the field,” Beckham said with a smile.
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @M_Montemurro.