When Pierzynski hits the free-agent market at the end of this season, he will likely be more expensive than he was this past winter, when the Braves gave him a one-year, $2 million deal that included some incentives that became much valuable when he became Atlanta's starting catcher less than two weeks into this season.
If the Braves bring Pierzynski back next year, the intention would likely be to have him serve as a backup. Though the 38-year-old veteran has been a consistent offensive performer, entering Saturday's game in Washington hitting .295 with a .758 OPS, there is concern about how the wear and tear created by this season's workload might affect him in the future.
Pierzynski already has earned $400,000 in bonuses courtesy of the 88 starts he has made as Atlanta's catcher this season. His contract also calls for him to gain separate $100,000 bonuses for 90, 95 and 100 starts behind the plate.
The Braves recalled Christian Bethancourt from Triple-A Gwinnett last week with the intention to play him routinely and gain a better feel for whether they should continue to consider the 24-year-old to be their catcher of the future. But since starting just four of the first five games that followed his promotion, the once highly regarded prospect has made just three of the seven starts that followed.
That development may indicate that the Braves have not been impressed with the additional development Bethancourt gained while spending this summer with Gwinnett. But at the same time, Pierzynski simply stands as the better option from a competitive perspective.
"What a great career this guy has had, and he's not even done," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We've used him too much at times. He's been special and he's been special for us."
Pierzynski and Bill Dickey are tied for 10th place on the list for most hits (1,969) recorded by a Major League catcher. The Braves' veteran needs 79 more hits to match Johnny Bench for ninth place on the all-time list. Pierzynski entered play Saturday as the active leader in games caught, with 1,855, good for 11th all-time in that category.
"Hopefully we get a chance to witness [Pierzynski matching Bench], because he has been good," Gonzalez said, providing further indication the manager hopes to be reunited with the catcher next year.