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Is A.J. Pierzynski just what the St. Louis Cardinals need?

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Disclaimer: The ideas in this post contain my opinions only. They should, in no way, be considered the opinion of the Viva El Birdos writing staff as a whole, unless, of course, they choose to say so in the comments section.

Screenshot of MLB.TV Highlight

On July 25th, 2014, Derrick Goold reported that the St. Louis Cardinals were set to make a move that made even semi-casual fans audibly grumble. Admittedly, I was one of those fans, too, initially at least. However, the more I discussed the signing of A.J. Pierzynski with some of my baseball buddies, the more I became comfortable with the move, and beyond that, the more I actually began to like the move.

At 37.5 years old, it is clear that Pierzynski's best playing days are obviously behind him, especially at the plate. Because of this, along with numerous clubhouse-cancer-like extracurricular activities, many believed that John Mozeliak, frustrated with the prices asked for on the trade market, was just "scraping the bottom of the barrel" with this move. I mean, this is the guy who has supposedly "wore out his welcome" on each team he has played for in the past, correct?

This is a perfectly reasonable thought process, and I am not here to change fans' opinions because part of the beauty of baseball is that fans (of the same team) can have directly conflicting ideas on the exact same topic. Rather, I will simply do my best to provide some possible thought processes behind the signing. Honestly, Bernie Miklasz tactfully summed up my first point in 27 words:

Looking at the Cardinals 25-man roster plus injured players and coaching staff, which person do you see as a rah-rah clubhouse and dugout guy—someone capable of lighting a fire underneath the team? Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Matt Holliday are all great leaders in their own ways, but none of them really fit the bill of a "rah-rah" guy. Unfortunately for all of us, Chris Carpenter is no longer walking through that clubhouse door (in a uniform at least). Pierzynski just may be able to provide this while we anxiously wait for the Return of the Yadi. If all else fails, maybe he can throw some beer cans at Oscar Taveras to get him going at the plate.

Okay, okay. Intangibles cannot be quantified. I get that. Thus, let's take a look at some tangibles as well.

Since Yadi went down, Tony Cruz, in nine starts, has had five batted balls of the line drive variety. In yesterday's game alone, Pierzynski had three. I realize that past batted ball percentages are not predictive of future performance, but this is still hard to ignore. Cruz has been a terrific backup over the last four seasons, but one wouldn't be considered crazy if they believed he was now being overexposed. A .220/.297/.268 slash line with a wRC+ of 61 just isn't going to cut it for six more weeks (at the very minimum). I know what many of you are thinking right now: 93 plate appearances isn't enough to determine the true value of a hitter (See: Taveras, Oscar), but at this point in Cruz's career (425 plate appearances over 4 seasons), it's hard to imagine that he will provide much value at the plate.

So, is Pierzynski a middle-of-the-order hitter that can help spark the offense? With a 90 wRC+ last season and a 74 so far this season, no, he is not. Is he good at framing pitches? Not really (75th out of 89 in framing runs added). Is he a good at blocking pitches? Yep, he sure is (4th in blocking runs added). Is he a good game-manager? That remains to be seen with the Cardinals, but any catcher that is able to get 2014 Shelby Miller to throw 5.2 innings without issuing a single walk gets solid first impression points in my book.

With a team that some projected to win 95+ games sputtering a little bit (four-game losing streak prior to yesterday's win), the signing should be seen as a low-risk, relatively high-reward stop-gap until Yadi is able to return to health. Pierzynski won't embarrass himself behind the plate, and all signs point to more production (than Cruz) at the plate as well. He'll hit line drives (career 20.9 LD%) and rip an occasional homer (176 in his career). Sure, he will likely piss some (likely many) people off, but at this point, what's the risk in that?

If he struggles and becomes too much of a distraction in the clubhouse, the front office can cut him just as quickly as they signed him. The financial obligation facing the Cardinals with Pierzynski allows for that. Do I think this signing was a lot riskier than just giving George Kottaras a fair shot? Absolutely, but given how weird 2014 has been for the Cardinals, I don't mind the risk—in fact, I embrace it.