CHICAGO -- With all due respect intended, Tyler Flowers hopes free agent A.J. Pierzynski does not come back to the White Sox.
This feeling certainly doesn't indicate a weakening of the personal bond between the primary catchers on the team's 2012 Major League roster. Quite the contrary.
Flowers felt as if his working relationship with Pierzynski was as strong as it's ever been. Instead, it's more about the organizational staple Pierzynski continuing his stellar career elsewhere and Flowers truly feeling ready to challenge himself as an everyday catcher.
"I think so," said Flowers during a phone conversation with MLB.com when asked if he was prepared to take over the starting job. "My trade happened a long time ago. It's time to find out if it was a good move or not.
"I've taken a beating enough not playing as much as I'd like. I've got something to prove to the organization and, really, the city -- that I can be a quality catcher in the big leagues defensively, and offensively, I can be above average to average. I'm hoping to get that opportunity."
When asked about the "taken a beating" comment, Flowers explained that it was more about the critiques of his ability with the bat in limited action. The interesting counterpoint is that when Flowers was acquired from the Braves on Dec. 5, 2008, as part of the Javier Vazquez deal, then-general manager Ken Williams felt Flowers' offensive game was pretty much Major League-ready.
Now, Flowers is known as a strong defensive backstop and a great game caller who needs to make better contact after striking out 56 times in 136 at-bats in 2012. The strikeouts will come for the powerful Flowers, but through more consistent plate appearances, he can possibly fall somewhere in between the high-strikeout, high-walk output of Adam Dunn and the low-strikeout, low-walk production of Pierzynski.
For Flowers, there's also the knowledge that he doesn't have to hit .290, or .260 for that matter, to be a successful White Sox contributor.
"Statistically, those kinds of numbers make people happy. With the organization, it's not the whole thing," Flowers said. "Guys are out there with a .220 average and 15 homers and they are making a huge impact at catcher, when you ask the organization. It's not just the offensive side. It gets so blown up, but the stuff on the other end for a catcher is just as important, if not more.
"I'm not as young as I once was, but in terms of the big leagues I'm young," said Flowers, who turns 27 on Jan. 24. "Some of the criticism [aimed at me] isn't entirely fair, considering I had 150 plate appearances in 162 games."
Playing winter ball in the Dominican was part of the overall plan to compensate for Flowers having reduced at-bats as a backup to Pierzynski, who posted his 11th straight season with at least 1,000 innings caught and had a breakout power year. But two days before departing with his wife and infant daughter, Flowers went to the batting cages in Atlanta with his dad to see how he felt and to implement a few changes made by hitting coach Jeff Manto.
After about 10 swings and after having trouble gripping the bat, Flowers knew something was wrong. He went through his agent and White Sox head athletic trainer Herm Schneider to get the problem diagnosed, a problem that turned out to be a fracture in his lower left hand that occurred when he was hit by a pitch by Indians closer Chris Perez in the ninth inning of the second-to-last game of the season.
That injury leaves him in a cast for another week or two and led to the Dominican excursion being canceled. Flowers was not thrilled with Perez at the time of the pitch, but Perez sought out Flowers as the two left the field and Flowers knew there was no intent on the closer's part.
|"When he had more playing time, his bat got going. I really believe he can do the job."|
|-- Jake Peavy|
"Defensively, he certainly can handle the position," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who confirmed Flowers would be one of the topics of conversation at the meetings. "He's going to get on base some and he's going to have some power. He can be a valuable and viable everyday catcher in the big leagues."
"Everybody thinks the world of Flowers as a catcher," White Sox starting pitcher Jake Peavy said. "When he had more playing time, his bat got going. I really believe he can do the job."
Peavy made that comment about Flowers during a Tuesday conference call after agreeing to a two-year, $29-million extension. That money becomes a contributing factor that might preclude the White Sox from bringing back Pierzynski.
Before supporting Flowers, Peavy heaped praise upon Pierzynski. It's the same sort of positive commentary provided by Flowers, who said Pierzynski is someone he would turn to for both baseball and non-baseball related advice.
The two have discussed Flowers' desire to start, a desire much like Pierzynski had early in his career with the Twins. While Flowers wants the starting job, he seems willing to back up Pierzynski for another year or two if that scenario unfolds.
"It's not a situation I hope happens," Flowers said. "I think it would be one, if circumstances were so and it followed with talks with the organization, I'd be OK with it.
"Knowing how much [Pierzynski] means to the team and the city, he has been a tremendous player and deserves a level of respect from younger guys. If the best situation for him is to come back, one guy I would love backing up is him."