A look at where the White Sox' A.J. Pierzynski ranks among major-league catchers since 2001:
Doubles 246 1st
Games caught 1,139 2nd
Hits 1,197 3rd
Extra-base hits 368 3rd
Runs 506 4th
RBI 518 6th
Batting average .287 7th
Home runs 107 7th
TUCSON, Ariz. - The more the White Sox try to get starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski help so that he doesn't have to squat for so many innings every season, the more they realize it's not really necessary.
And the more they try to develop potential replacements such as Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegly, the more Pierzynski makes the young competition look way overmatched.
"I just go out and try to play every day," said Pierzynski, 33 and embarking on his 10th full major league season (No. 6 with the Sox).
"I'm not really thinking about anything else. I just try to do what I can to help this team win games. I've been pretty fortunate that I haven't had any freak things happen.
"I've been hit and this and that, but not in the right spot yet. It takes some luck, but I pride myself on getting into the weight room every day and working hard, making sure I'm ready to go."
As he has shown this spring, Pierzynski is ready again to strap on the gear and resume his status as one of baseball's most vilified characters.
The left-hander is batting a sturdy .273 in the Cactus League after hitting .300 last season - the first time in history a White Sox catcher has reached that plateau.
Pierzynski's contract is up at the end of the season, and it's no secret he wants to sign a new deal with the Sox.
"Obviously, everyone knows how I feel about the White Sox organization, the city of Chicago," Pierzynski said. "I'd love to stay here, but at the same time it takes two people to want that. If they don't want me back, I can't force their hand and say, 'Hey, I want to come back no matter what.'
"If they don't want me back, they don't want me back. Hopefully that's not the case. But we haven't really gotten into it, we haven't really talked about it, so we'll see what happens."
Flowers is the heir apparent, but his defensive skills are still suspect. The 24-year-old prospect also struggled with the bat (2-for-18) this spring before being optioned to Class AAA Charlotte.
Finding capable catchers is one of the most difficult tasks in major-league baseball, and Pierzynski certainly has proved ability.
"They know how I feel, so we'll see," Pierzynski said. "They've got other problems to worry about - (Paul) Konerko is a free agent at the end of the year, they have heavy salary lined up for next year. It's going to come down to money, and I'm sure it'll also depend on how Tyler does and how he develops."
If the Sox unexpectedly decide to cut ties at the end of the season, Pierzynski is not going to sulk and walk away from the game.
"I want to keep playing after this year," he said. "As long as somebody keeps paying me, I don't know why I wouldn't keep playing. You look at guys that are still playing, guys like Jason Kendall and Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez), they're 37, 38 years old and they're getting two-year contracts.
"If you stay healthy and you keep producing there's always a need for catchers, especially catchers with experience. I'll play as long as my wife lets me and as long as somebody wants me to go out there."
How much longer is Lisa Pierzynski going to let her husband play?
"That's the bigger question," A.J. said with a laugh. "It's not how long I want to play; it's how long she'll let me play. We'll see, but I've been very fortunate. I have a great job and it's been a great run. Hopefully I can keep it going for a while."
As for this season, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen again said he's going to try playing backup catcher Ramon Castro more so Pierzynski can stay somewhat fresh.
"Obviously with A.J. in the lineup, we're going to be a lot better," Guillen said. "We should give A.J. more rest. That's our plans.
"I know it's A.J.'s free-agent year and he wants to play every day. In the meanwhile, we have to keep him fresh to have a pretty strong season."