White Sox reward Pierzynski

White Sox reward Pierzynski

CHICAGO -- A.J. Pierzynski seemingly has packed a life's worth of living into the course of one 12-month period.

Not all of that living consisted of positive memories. After the Giants non-tendered him during the last offseason, Pierzynski had to defend his character to the numerous teams interested in bringing him on board. That defense included countless talks with White Sox general manager Ken Williams, who originally told MLB.com last December that Pierzynski was not a fit for his team, before signing him to a one-year deal on Jan. 6 to mark Pierzynski's third team in three years.

But Pierzynski didn't come into Chicago feeling as if he had something to prove or with a monumental chip on his shoulder, unless a high level of intensity on a daily basis and a sardonic sense of humor could be translated into a particular axe to grind. It was more a case of Pierzynski truly trying to find a place where he fit.

That place seems to be with the White Sox. The man with the most famous strikeout in American League Championship Series history wanted to stay with the White Sox, and the White Sox wanted one of their leaders back in the fold for many years to come.

Pierzynski, who turns 29 on Dec. 30, agreed to terms on a three-year, $15 million contract Monday, and in the process, avoided arbitration. The deal reduces the White Sox arbitration-eligible pool of players to Jon Garland, Joe Crede, Rob Mackowiak, Willie Harris and Timo Perez, with Garland, Crede and Mackowiak figuring to be offered arbitration.

Eligible to become a free agent after the 2006 season, Pierzynski now will earn $4 million in 2006 and $5.5 million in 2007 and 2008. Pierzynski simply likes the feeling of stability for the first time in three years.

"It means a lot that this team has enough respect to give you three years and allow you the freedom to go out and get comfortable in a city," said Pierzynski, who earned $2.25 million in 2005, during a conference call Monday. "At least I know for three years what I will be doing and where I will be playing."

"We feel A.J. has found a home here," added assistant general manager Rick Hahn, pinch-hitting for Williams, who is still battling pain from kidney stones. "It was certainly a priority for us to get him locked up and have control over his free agent years in the not too distant future."

The White Sox are not exactly deep at the catcher's position throughout the organization, with Chris Stewart serving as their only legitimate prospect, and the position wasn't their strongest at the Major League level as the 2005 calendar year approached. Enter Pierzynski, who proved to be one of the most important signings, if not the most important signing, by Williams during the offseason.

Hahn mentioned Monday how Pierzynski proved early on in Spring Training what he was capable of doing, and that his contributions were not only essential to the 2005 success but to the franchise's success going forward. Pierzynski credited the White Sox organization for making him feel welcome from his first day with the team.

"I think [manager] Ozzie [Guillen], No. 1," said Pierzynski, when asked why the White Sox fit him so perfectly. "Ozzie and Kenny got me acclimated to the situation. And the coaches were great.

"[Hitting coach Greg] Walker and I have a good relationship. [Mark] Buehrle and [Paul] Konerko are the leaders of the team and they took me in right away. It was a great fit from Day 1."

Pierzynski's average dipped to .257 in 2005, but he also launched a career-high 18 home runs and drove in 57 runs. His handling of the pitchers was unquestioned and even applauded by the White Sox staff, after it emerged as an area that limited an uneasy fit in San Francisco to just one season.

White Sox pitchers compiled a 2.19 ERA when he was behind the plate for the 12 postseason contests, including four straight complete games in the ALCS. Pierzynski also hit .262 with four doubles, three home runs and nine RBIs as part of the White Sox run to their first World Series title since 1917.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Pierzynski was durable, ranking third among American League catchers with 1,117 2/3 innings caught, the second-highest total by a White Sox catcher since 1971. He also finished the season with a .999 fielding percentage and a 119-game errorless streak, the longest active streak among Major League catchers.

There also was the addition of an attitude previously absent from the White Sox organization. Pierzynski was direct and totally focused on winning, and the only chip that eventually emerged was a group chip, proving the Sox were as good as they played on the field from the start of the 2005 campaign. The career .287 hitter hopes his team can prove it's worthy of a repeat in 2006, although the cast list has changed drastically.

Aaron Rowand's trade to Philadelphia marked the loss of a close friend for Pierzynski, who mentioned that Rowand called after Pierzynski's foray into pro wrestling last weekend, telling him the match grew funnier every time he watched it. Pierzynski quickly countered that most teams would love to have a middle of the ordering featuring Jermaine Dye, Konerko and Jim Thome. The man who was once traded for All-Star closer Joe Nathan understands you have to give up something to get something.

"I understand why Kenny made the move," Pierzynski said of the Rowand trade. "I hope Thome hits 40 home runs and drives in 100 and we get more power in the middle."

As for his burgeoning pro wrestling career, a career in which Pierzynski pointed out Monday he is unbeaten, Hahn mentioned there is standard language in the multiyear deal that could jeopardize guaranteed money for Pierzynski if he was injured through "inherently dangerous activities." Pierzynski quipped that he was safe to wrestle, with there being no specific wording in the contract prohibiting him from becoming the next "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

The managerial role at TNA's Pay Per View event last Sunday in Orlando was another memorable moment during Pierzynski's whirlwind year. His first daughter was born, he contributed mightily to the White Sox first World Series title since 1917, and now, he has found a baseball home in Chicago.

"It has been an amazing year, not only for myself but for the White Sox," Pierzynski said. "I was looking for something that was fair, and the White Sox went out of their way to do that.

"I didn't want to break the bank. What I got was plenty enough. It worked out well both ways."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.