BOSTON — Jacoby Ellsbury went to the New York Yankees.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is gone, too.
The Boston Red Sox began rebuilding for their World Series title defense Wednesday when they signed free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract.
“It’s not every day you get a chance to play for the defending World Series champions. Looking at what they have coming back, there’s definitely a chance to do it again,” Pierzynski said in a conference call with reporters.
“It was a place that you always want to go to because they win and they try to win every year. When they called, it was hard to say no.”
A two-time All-Star, Pierzynski will take over for the switch-hitting Saltalamacchia, who agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday at about the same time the Yankees pried Ellsbury away from their rivals with a seven-year, $153 million contract.
“We wish Jacoby well,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “He was obviously a real good player here. He was a big part of two World Series teams and we would have loved to keep him. But we felt that there was an area or range that we were willing to go to, and the market just went past that.”
The best candidate to replace Ellsbury in the Red Sox system is Jackie Bradley Jr., who batted .189 in 37 games in the majors last year and .275 with 10 homers in 80 games at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Cherington said it was too early to say whether there would be other candidates brought in through free agency or trade.
“We feel good about some of the in-house alternatives, and one of those is certainly Jackie Bradley,” Cherington said. “We feel fortunate that Jackie is in our organization, and we will feel good that he is playing center field, if that’s the way it works out.”
Pierzynski, who has played for four teams over parts of 16 seasons, said he talked to several former teammates who were on the Red Sox this year, including David Ortiz, Matt Thornton and Jake Peavy. He also bumped into Mark Kotsay while on vacation in Hawaii.
“They all said, ‘If you get an opportunity to come, you’ve got to take it,’” Pierzynski said. “Every person I talked to has had a positive experience there. I was grateful that Ben reached out and gave me an opportunity.”
Saltalamacchia had been a solid catcher in Boston. But his last play in a Red Sox uniform was the ill-advised throw to third base that led to the obstruction call against Will Middlebrooks, which gave the St. Louis Cardinals a victory in Game 3 of the World Series. David Ross took over, and the Red Sox went on to win the Series in six games — their third title in 10 years.
Both catchers were also a big part of the clubhouse chemistry that was helped erase the stigma of the fried chicken and beer collapse of 2011. Pierzynski has a mixed reputation in baseball — including a conflict with Peavy that the two say is long behind them — but his own teammates usually defend him.
“(He has) the reputation across the field of not being the best guy,” Boston manager John Farrell said on WEEI-AM. “But there are guys you get that feel from across the field and then when they get in your dugout, you love him. He was on board with everything. The bottom line is he wants to do nothing more than one thing: win.”
Pierzynski, a left-handed hitter, and Ross, a righty, will both be 37 next season. The Red Sox have two catching prospects in the minor leagues, Christian Vazquez in Triple-A and Blake Swihart in Single-A.
“What we’re looking at is a short-term situation that really points toward Vazquez and Swihart, that are coming,” Farrell said. “That doesn’t mean that in 2015 Vazquez is a starter, but it gives us the flexibility that if he makes another good step in the minors the next year, it’s the potential that a guy could step in.”
Cherington also said his goal was to make the 2014 team stronger without hindering flexibility in the future, an outlook that made a one-year deal for a veteran catcher more attractive than the three years Saltalamacchia got.
“We really appreciate everything he did,” Cherington said. “If reports are accurate, we’re happy for him that he gets a good deal. We wish him well, but we feel like A.J. is the right fit for us right now.”
Pierzynski batted .272 with 17 homers and 70 RBIs last season with Texas — the 13th season in a row in which he’s caught at least 110 games. In his career with the Twins, Giants, White Sox and Rangers, Pierzynski is a .283 hitter with 172 homers and 800 RBIs, with a .322 average in 33 games at Fenway Park.
“The combination of A.J. and Ross will allow that to be a position of strength for us, as it was this year,” Cherington said.
Pierzynski has caught two no-hitters, including Philip Humber’s perfect game April 21, 2012. He made the All-Star Game in 2002 and ‘06 and won the World Series with the White Sox in 2005. He has a .300 career average with five homers and 17 RBIs in the postseason.