Steve Pearce Is A Sneaky Good Signing For The Toronto Blue Jays
Today was an interesting day for the Toronto Blue Jays. Things are becoming clearer as to the direction this team is going in moving forward and that is without the services of Edwin Encarnacion. It was a foregone conclusion that Jose Bautista was going to be gone when free agency opened, they had no intention of bringing back Bautista. For Blue Jays fans, it will be an adjustment but for the next two years, this team should be fine at the 1st base position after the addition of Steve Pearce.
Pearce is a 33 year old journeyman who has bounced around from the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, and back to the Orioles. The Blue Jays almost had Steve Pearce during the 2014 season when he was DFA’d by the Orioles, claimed by the Blue Jays, but an untimely injury to Chris Davis meant he chose to return back to Baltimore instead of going to Toronto. Now, he is the new super utility man for the Blue Jays after the 2 year, $12.5 million deal signed today with the team.
Currently, the Blue Jays plan is to have Pearce at 1st base with Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales as the primary DH, though Morales could get time at first base. GM Ross Atkins went on record today (December 5th) to say they could see Pearce and Smoak platooning at 1st base or see Smoak get a majority of his time at 1st with Pearce roaming around from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, left field and right field. Pearce can play all over and that is one thing that is of large appeal to the Blue Jays brass. He will provide positional flexibility, something they didn’t have last year.
The main thing the Blue Jays brass are extremely excited about is the ability of Steve Pearce to hit left handed pitching, something the team struggled with in 2016. Let’s look at Pearce’s splits against the Blue Jays as a team:
- Blue Jays 2016 vs. LHP: 1512 PA, 53 HR, .249 BA, .330 OBP, .747 OPS, 100 wRC+
- Steve Pearce 2016 vs. LHP: 95 PA, 7 HR, .317 BA, .411 OBP, 1.032 OPS, 176 wRC+
- Steve Pearce Career vs. LHP: 604 AB, 31 HR, .270 BA, .353 OBP, .853 OPS, 130 wRC+
As you can see, Pearce is quite effective hitting against left handers. That is why Toronto radio personality Mike Wilner refers to Steve Pearce as a guy who “murdalizes” lefty pitching, He is correct in that. While Pearce is more effective versus left handers, he isn’t useless against righties either. He is average against right handers as his 100 career wRC+ shows.
Now, the signing of Steve Pearce brings up some other questions. The main one for me and a few others is, what does a potential platoon of Smoak and Pearce look like? Let’s take a look:
- Justin Smoak 2016 vs. RHP: .221/.325/.413
- Steve Pearce 2016 vs. RHP: .244/.322/.406
- Justin Smoak 2016 vs. LHP: .209/.284/.337
- Steve Pearce 2016 vs. LHP: .270/.353/.500
As you can see, Pearce clearly is the better option than Smoak against left handers. They’re pretty much even against right handed pitching, so the only thing you could say is if the primary use of Steve Pearce is in a platoon role with Smoak is, Smoak versus right handers and Pearce against lefties. Still, the difference between the two against righties is so minimal that Smoak shouldn’t even be playing at all. Pearce could take the majority of the innings at 1st with Smoak on the bench. The role obviously is still much up for debate, but early indications are a platoon of Smoak and Pearce at 1st, something I feel shouldn’t happen.
The other route is the Blue Jays use Steve Pearce as a super utility guy who can play in the outfield, be the emergency 2nd baseman instead of Russell Martin, and even give Josh Donaldson a day off. Pearce actually brings an okay glove. The Blue Jays wouldn’t be handcuffed with Pearce in the field. He will be steady. If that is the primary use of Pearce, Smoak would start the season as the primary 1st baseman. The Blue Jays did extend Justin Smoak mid-season, so it is possible they wish to see if maybe they can fix him and turn him into another late bloomer like former teammates Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. While that’s possible, I doubt that happens.
Regardless of how you feel about the latest move, Pearce is what the Blue Jays need. He provides tons of positional flexibility and he mashes left handers. Split down the middle of $6.25 million per season for the next two years (if that is how it breaks down), it’s a smart move. He will provide more than enough value based on what he is getting paid. His role is still to be determined, but I feel he will start as a super utility guy, and maybe transition to a primary platoon mate of Justin Smoak if Smoak proves unable to take on the everyday role at 1st base. Good signing to kick off the winter meeting for the Toronto Blue Jays.