According to Derrick Goold, noted nogoodnik AJ Pierzynski will be signed by the Cardinals and travel to Chicago tonight to be ready for tomorrow's game against the Cubs. George Kottaras will be released.
Goold's article can be found here.
The move is surprising, as Kottaras was clearly preferred in the wake of Yadier Molina's injury. Furthermore, a source indicated that Pierzynski was not even a consideration at that time.
But most surprising about this is simply that Pierzynski has a reputation for having, well, a colorfully unpleasant personality. There are countless pieces of evidence, but here are two: In 2011, he was voted by his peers as having MLB's "meanest" personality, and read this about his recent acrimonious departure from Boston. It's hard to imagine him working well in Mike Matheny's clubhouse.
Pierzynski, 37, bats from the left like Kottaras, likely not as well, and is probably only marginally better defensively. So what changed in the last two weeks? Short of Kottaras suddenly deciding he really wants to be a dairy farmer, there are three possibilities I can think of.
1. They didn't like what they saw of Kottaras up close. This seems most likely to me. Kottaras is a genuinely decent hitter, yet can't hold a job. Maybe game calling? Maybe how he works with pitchers?
2. They liked Pierzynski better in the first place, but there was an impediment to him coming to St Louis that has since disappeared. Money? His interest? Perhaps he's done work behind the scenes in the last two weeks to make teams more comfortable with his personality? Was he not content to be a backup then, but is now? Wait, is he the backup now?
3. Someone, somewhere, thinks the 2014 Cardinals need some sort of "fire" lit under them, and they think that AJ is the pyromaniac to do it. I suspect people will talk about this idea. I'm not going to believe it for a second, even if Mo actually comes out and says this. It doesn't seem to fit in with Mo's approach.
This is a curious move, and it doesn't happen unless the Cardinals simply think Pierzynski is a better baseball player than George Kottaras, and given the complexities of the catcher position, I'll happily defer on the matter. Pierzynski has a reputation as an intense competitor and a savvy player. And for what it's worth, he's not totally helpless with the bat. He's a free-swinger who won't earn walks, but a he makes a lot of contact. Pierzynski also still probably has the fair power he has possessed throughout his career. He hit 27 homers two years ago and 17 last year.
Some are going to wonder if AJ will disrupt the clubhouse chemistry or culture. It's a strange fit, but I don't think it should be a worry. Presumably, veterans like Molina, Wainwright, and Holliday have a strong influence, and Mike Matheny runs a tight ship. If troubles in that regard do arise, Pierzynski will be easy enough to jettison, but it's worth remembering that while AJ Pierzynski has rubbed much of the continent the wrong way, we should distinguish between the guy people want to punch and the guy who punches people. AJ is the former.