Blue Jays: Pearce’s odd fit with the roster next season
With the Blue Jays set on getting younger and more athletic in 2018, there could be a few differences in the lineup next season. Where does that leave Steve Pearce?
The Blue Jays had a lot of disappointments last year, but also some pleasant surprises, like the emergence of Justin Smoak. When the Blue Jays entered spring training last year, it was assumed that Smoak would be battling for at bats at first base with new addition, Steve Pearce, but instead the former grabbed the job and never let it go. As a result, Pearce spent the vast majority of his time in left field.
The Blue Jays were fortunate that Pearce has that versatility, as they were able to get him in the lineup when he was healthy. Between a couple stints on the disabled list, he slashed .252/.319/.438 in with 13 home runs and 37 RBI in 313 at bats, and was a solid boost to the lineup at times, especially when he had two walk-off grand slams in the same week.
Unfortunately Pearce doesn’t rate out as a great defensive left fielder, so he’s a less than ideal fit, even for a team that’s starved for offence. He finished the season with a -0.9 dWAR rating, a mark that would definitely have improved if he had spent more time at first, his preferred position. However, that’s not going to happen any time soon unless Justin Smoak suffers an injury (knock on wood), so left field it is as long as he’s a Blue Jay.
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The front office certainly has a few options this offseason, and it’ll be interesting to see how they play their cards. Pearce has one year and 6.25 million remaining on the two year pact he signed last offseason. At the moment it would appear that he’s destined to return alongside centre fielder, Kevin Pillar, and a yet to be determined third member of the outfield. Teoscar Hernandez impressed in September, but the team could also look to use the lineup opening to address their deficiencies with a more veteran, guaranteed presence.
That said, Hernandez was impressive enough that it wouldn’t be surprising if the Blue Jays gave him an extended look into the early part of the season, and if he holds his own then the outfield is theoretically set with the 24 year old joining Pearce and Pillar. However, it feels like the front office and (especially) the fans would like more, which is where it could get interesting for Pearce.
With his versatility between first base, the corner outfield, and some experience at second, he should be an asset for nearly any roster, but again it comes down to the fit for the Blue Jays. They have several expensive veterans with similar offensive skill sets, like Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales, and arguably others, but Pearce has something going (?) for him that none of those names do. An affordable contract.
The front office could choose to look to move one of their lineup regulars this offseason, and if they do then Pearce should be the easiest player to find a buyer for. His contract is short, affordable, and he offers a potent veteran bat when healthy, especially against left-handers. I don’t necessarily believe that the Blue Jays want to trade him, but if they’re looking to make a fundamental change to their offensive approach, it’s going to take more than just a more athletic player in right field.
Which is why he might be the most interesting player on the roster for me this offseason, as I know the front office wants to make some changes, and there isn’t a lot of room to play with as far as moving others around. If they choose to retain him, I fully expect him to be back in left field and I’m even optimistic that he could stay healthy and have a better season. When he was right, he was a legitimate threat in the lineup, and having him around was a plus for John Gibbons and company to be sure.
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However, with Smoak’s emergence, his fit with the team became a lot less perfect, even for a productive player on a reasonable deal. For those reasons, Pearce could be the first guy the front office moves if they decide to shake up the lineup through the trade route. This is purely speculation on my part, but if I were to put my money down it would be on the salary, contract length, versatility, and less than ideal fit of Steve Pearce ending up somewhere else next season. And if I’m wrong, the Blue Jays could do far worse in left field. Remember 2015?