Based on a few projections, Tyler Flowers may provide as much value to the White Sox as A.J. Pierzynski in the veteran catcher's absence.
With the news that Pierzynski could miss at least a month with a fractured right wrist, it would seem as if Flowers finally has caught the break (no pun intended) he's been waiting for.
Flowers is a good bet to perform better defensively than Pierzynski -- which, depending on your outlook, isn't saying much. He has a stronger, more accurate arm, and while it remains to be seen whether he can handle the pitching staff as well at Pierzynski, there's no reason to believe A.J.'s ability to manage a pitching staff is an exclusive talent.
Offensively, Pierzynski was actually in the midst of his best season with the White Sox, at least compared to the MLB average. He hadn't had an offensive season that rated average or better since 2003 by wRC+ (which takes wOBA and adjusts it for league and park) until 2011, in which he's posted a 100 wRC+ (average).
If Flowers can pull off average offense, he'll be worth more to the White Sox than Pierzynski. But that's easier said than done.
Through a whopping 23 plate appearances with the Sox this season, Flowers has a .375 wOBA -- although, for emphasis, that's in a hardly-reliable 23 plate appearances. ZiPS sees a .326 wOBA going forward, which would be acceptable given whatever semblance of a defensive upgrade Flowers would provide over Pierzynski.
If that prediction is correct, the Sox actually won't lose much, if anything, between Flowers and Pierzynski.
Flowers will likely be undervalued given the low batting average he'll probably compile, which is a shame -- he projects to have close to the same on-base numbers as those of Pierzynski. But no matter what Flowers does in the next month or so, he won't be the starting catcher in 2012. Pierzynski's $6 million salary next season has a lot to do with that.
If Flowers played incredibly well over the next month -- which, by the way, isn't a big enough sample to justify replacing somebody -- and the Sox were inclined to move Pierzynski, they'd have a difficult time finding a decent return for a 35-year-old backstop making that much money. Plus, the Sox may be hesitant to deal away a clubhouse leader and fan favorite to let a relatively-untested youngster start.
Although, on the other hand, if the Sox want to shed salary in the offseason, a solid stretch of play by Flowers at the back end of this season could give the team reason to move some or all of that $6 million salary.
So the ball may be in Flowers' court. At the least, a solid month with Pierzynski out would earn him a backup job with the Sox in 2012 -- or increase his trade value if the Sox look to make a deal in the offseason.