It had a really good chance of being bad when it started.
By the end, it was worse than anybody could have expected.
When the Red Sox designated A.J. Pierzynski for assignment Wednesday, there were multiple factors identified by both Red Sox manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington. In a nutshell, the catcher didn't hit like they thought he would, and with the Sox not winning, it became evident the time had come to give Christian Vazquez a try behind the plate.
But it was so much more than that.
According to multiple sources within the Red Sox clubhouse, Pierzynski had become such a negative influence on the team that players approached both the Sox coaches and front office to address the problem. The common theme expressed was the catcher's seeming indifference toward his teammates and the common goals of the same organization that had relied on an all-for-one approach when winning the 2013 World Series.
A microcosm of Pierzynski's approach was mentioned by more than one of the backstop's former teammates, who revealed his propensity to spend a significant amount of time looking at his phone while at his locker during games. In one instance, after a particularly rough outing in which the starting pitcher had been pulled early in the game, Pierzynski could be found staring at his phone while the pitcher gave off the appearance of being an emotional wreck just a few feet away. That incident paved the way for at least one complaint to management from a teammate.
The frustrations with Pierzynski among the Red Sox grew with the catcher's indifference toward the perceived needs of the club. While it was understood that former Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had some flaws in his game, it was noted in multiple corners of the clubhouse that the difference between the current Marlins backstop and Pierzynski was that Saltalamacchia was invested in his pitchers' successes and failures, whereas Pierzynski had limited interest in branching out beyond himself.
It should be noted that one player can't be defined as the downfall of this Red Sox team to date, but it was tough to ignore the voices throughout the home clubhouse in the aftermath of the team's 5-4 walkoff victory over the White Sox, which described an entirely different dugout environment than there had been up through Tuesday. Over the course of a season, there are few times such proclamations are made, but this was unmistakably one of those rarities.
The Red Sox might rattle off 10 straight losses, leading to many of the same players who were celebrating Wednesday's win being shipped out of town. But the facts are the facts, and the facts are that this one player was identified as a dark cloud that had just been lifted by multiple members of what is perceived as one of baseball's most tight-knit groups.
This was a square peg in a round hole to begin with.
The Red Sox viewed signing Pierzynski as an opportunity to fill a one-year gap with a player who might approach Saltalamacchia's offensive production from the left side at what would be nearly half the cost of a $14 million qualifying offer. The narrative included a history of winning, making contact (which the lineup seemingly needed) and having a solid throwing arm that might help limit opponents' running games.
Sure, there were red flags. He was viewed as a subpar receiver of the baseball. The Red Sox' preferred approach at the plate would be nowhere to be found, with Pierzynski swinging at anything and everything. And then there was that occasionally abrasive attitude.
No worries. The Red Sox were confident the veteran pitching staff could deal with the catcher's weaknesses behind the plate. Perhaps the lack of patience would dissipate after he watched those around him. And that personality? The Sox clubhouse would be strong enough to mold the 37-year-old, instead of the other way around.
Cherington did his due diligence, calling various players on the Red Sox to pick their brains regarding Pierzynski, ultimately relaying along the way that any misstep would be on him. Saltalamacchia would require a longer-term deal than the Sox were comfortable with, as would the Sox' first choice, Carlos Ruiz, who ultimately inked a three-year, $26 million deal with Philadelphia. The longtime White Sox catcher, who turned down a two-year deal with the Twins, was deemed good enough, leading to the highest annual average contract of his 17-year career -- one year, $8.25 million.
Tuesday, however, the general manager stood in front of the assembled media at Fenway Park and offered a reminder that this was, indeed, on him.
It became obvious to those in the clubhouse fairly early on that this might be an oil-and-water situation. Pierzynski's personality wasn't conducive to the Red Sox' way of doing things, saying what he wanted when he wanted without much regard for the greater good. From the dugout, he would yell across the field at the opposition, or ridicule umpires during replay challenges. It made many cringe. This wasn't the Red Sox way, the one that a World Series run had been built on.
And those flaws in his game that the Red Sox felt could be managed were becoming unmanageable. Pitchers started to express their preference to pitch to David Ross, with Pierzynski perhaps the team's worst receiving catcher since Javy Lopez swept through town in 2006. He also made little effort to fall in line with the rest of the lineup in regard to seeing at least a few pitches, a frustration that came to a head when he grounded into an inning-ending double play on a first-pitch fastball after the Red Sox had loaded the bases with three walks in Seattle.
But the Red Sox couldn't hit, and Pierzynski at least represented an opportunity for some offense. Wednesday, it was deemed that dynamic wasn't worth keeping him around.
Prior to the Sox' win, a group of about six or so players gathered over by where Pierzynski's locker used to be, including a few position players. Later, one of the participants revealed it was the first time this year that he had hung out over in the corner, where the lockers of Ross, Jake Peavy and Jon Lester also resided. Listening to voices throughout the room, it was clear the catcher's exit had opened previously closed doors in that room.
While some murmurs of these issues had circulated throughout the season (surfacing a bit in an article written by the Herald's John Tomase), the Red Sox players were trying to put on a good face in regard to Pierzynski's presence all the way up until he was designated for assignment. But after the team's latest turnover, the time had come to take stock of what was an experience unlike something many veterans had ever dealt with.
It's over. But, judging by voices heard Wednesday night, it's probably something that should have never started in the first place.