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Gabe Kapler on MFB: A.J. Pierzynski ‘a harmless individual’ who ‘just didn’t perform’ in Boston

07.10.14 at 12:07 pm ET
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Fox Sports 1 analyst and former Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler checked in with Middays with MFB on Thursday to discuss the Red Sox’ struggles and the controversy surrounding A.J. Pierzynski. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

The Red Sox released Pierzynski on Wednesday, and reports indicate the veteran catcher — who came to Boston with a reputation of being abrasive — had issues with teammates in the clubhouse. Kapler knows Pierzynski, having played winter league ball with him in Hawaii in the late 1990s.

“I got to know him well, and he’s a harmless individual,” Kapler said. “Big heart, sweetheart of a guy. Has the propensity to rub some folks the wrong way if things aren’t going well for him. And I think that’s the most important thing to look at here. He’s having his worst season ever offensively.”

Added Kapler: “We all have to be careful not to kick a guy on his way out, right? I think that that is the common thread, it’s the easiest thing to do. While I think there was certainly an element of clubhouse chemistry and his ability to connect with his teammates, I think the bottom line here is that he just didn’t perform. And that’s what Boston Red Sox front office members want to see — does a guy come in and perform? At some point you have to say, look, we don’t see this getting better.”

Christian Vazquez was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket to replace Pierzynski on the roster, and the young catcher showed promise in his debut Wednesday night.

“The other part of this equation — and it’s irresponsible not to illuminate it — is that the Red Sox want to see Vazquez: plus defender, a guy who can shut down a running game,” Kapler said. “[John] Farrell‘s a big fan — actually, all of baseball is a big fan. And they want to see what this guy can do behind the plate, stopping the running game.”

With Wednesday’s win, the Red Sox improved to 40-51. The defending World Series champions are 9 1/2 game behind the first-place Orioles in the American League East. Kapler said he does not hold Farrell entirely responsible for this year’s struggles.

“I think John Farrell‘s doing a fine job,” Kapler said. “Look, a lot of things have gone wrong for the Boston Red Sox. Last year they were sort of playing like superhero versions of themselves. A lot of them have sort of regressed back to the mean. You have a group of guys that — particularly in the lineup — that aren’t doing a very good job of scoring runs. And sans [Jon] Lester and [John] Lackey, there hasn’t been a whole lot of dependability in the starting rotation. The bullpen has been a pleasant surprise in a lot of different ways.

“But look, Farrell can’t walk into the batter’s box and hold the bat for these guys. And until they are scoring runs like we saw last year, it’s going to be a pretty tough road for them.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox.

On how to view the rest of the season: “You should expect a very small chance that this Red Sox team turns it around and ends up in the playoffs. I think you come to terms with that as quickly as possible. Then you find out, how can you get better? Are there pieces that you can move? Look, this is going to be very unpopular in Boston, but I think you at least consider, if you can’t get an extension done with Lester, in looking at what’s out there for him. Because there’s no rule that suggests that you can’t go re-sign Jon Lester in the offseason.

“If I’m Jon Lester and I end up on a contending team for a couple of months, I’m definitely going to come back and look to potentially re-sign in Boston. We saw it happen in 2013 with Francisco Rodriguez — obviously a great closer for the Milwaukee Brewers right now. He was with the Brewers prior but got traded to the Baltimore Orioles and then after the season went back and signed with his former club. It does happen. There’s been a lot of instances over the course of history that suggests that that works. And if you’re the Red Sox, you want to try to find a return for a guy like Jon Lester if you’re not able to sign him. The danger is, you lose your draft pick, but the high upside potential is you net a couple of quality prospects going forward.”

On if the Red Sox should have offered Lester more money before the season: “I think the Red Sox are exceptionally smart as it relates to how they evaluate players and what they think might happen going forward. But they don’t have a crystal ball. So, while they may have been confident that Jon Lester was going to be good, maybe they didn’t think he was going to be this good. They did a great job in working with Dustin Pedroia to sign him to a very club-friendly contract. They’re going to have some huge hits, some big home runs, and they’re going to have some misses along the way. But no matter what, they do their homework, and we have to give them the respect and the admiration that they deserve for putting in the hours that they put in, and for making a lot of good decisions along the way. The deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers was, from my perspective, one of the best made in the last five years.”

On Lackey and the possibility that he will not agree to play for the major league minimum next season: “That was a deal that John Lackey signed ‘€¦ and I thought it was a good deal for both sides. It gave John [Lackey] some downside protection and it gave the Red Sox some comfort to know that if this guy didn’t pitch for a year they wouldn’t have to pay him on the back end. I think, from my perspective, you honor that deal. However you have to honor that deal, you honor it, you get back on the field. It’s not like John Lackey is going hungry anytime soon. The $500,000 is probably irrelevant to him. But it’s certainly not as if he hasn’t made boatloads of money in his career.”

Read More: A.J. Pierzynski, Gabe Kapler,
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