Steve Pearce signed with the Rays this off season on a rebound contract that will pay him $4.75MM, and includes $2MM of incentives including $250k trade bonus. That bonus will prove to be prescient.
Pearce has been one of the bright spots on this last place Rays team as he’s been trying to replicate his 2014 season with the Orioles — where he put up 4.9 fWAR in 383 plate appearances by putting up a .293/.373/.556 and 161 wRC+.
This season Pearce is putting up a .312/.384/.528 and 147 wRC+ line while accumulating 1.9 fWAR through 224 PA.
What is Steve Pearce worth?
This is a difficult question as Pearce has a rather spotty track record, with only two really good seasons with the bat in 2014 and 2016. In those seasons he has combined for 607 plate appearances of 6.8 fWAR baseball. The other seven years of his major league career he has combined for 1172 plate appearances of 0.8 fWAR production.
Looking back at trade history there just isn’t a comparison for a deadline deal involving a player quite like Pearce. The closest you could probably argue is Chase Headley’s 2014 trade from the Padres to the Yankees.
Unlike Pearce, Headley was struggling at the time of the trade as he was hitting .229/.296/.355 and 89 wRC+ for the Padres. Headley owns a career 109 wRC+ compared to Pearce’s 111 wRC+. Headley is the superior defender, but Pearce boasts defensive versatility. The comparison has similar qualities, but Headley was the more respected piece when he was dealt.
The Padres received rookie utility infielder Yangervis Solarte and the Yankees #15 prospect according to Baseball America after the 2013 season in Rafael de Paula, who was having a tough season for the Yankees A+ affiliate.
Solarte had bounced around three organizations between 2011-14 as he spent time in the Twins, Rangers, and Yankees organizations. Solarte’s first taste of MLB action was successful as he was batting .254/.337/.381 and 105 wRC+ for the Yankees over 289 plate appearances.
Could the Rays expect something better than what Headley returned?
Pearce’s versatility could play a key role in negotiations, as he can play 1B/3B/2B/OF if you really need somebody to cover those positions.
Pearce is also one of the hottest bats on the market, so something in the bottom end of a team’s top 10 sounds like a reasonable get for Pearce.
Who is interested and what could the Rays receive?
According to Mike Petriello at MLB.com the Mets, Indians, Red Sox, and Nationals are teams that should be interested. The only real connection to any one team has been from the Indians according, to a tweet from Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
The Indians could use Pearce’s bat at third base where Juan Uribe has hit .209/.262/.336, good for a 58 wRC+. Uribe is a better defender, but Pearce’s bat would be a big upgrade.
In return, I’d love somebody like catcher Francisco Mejia, but his big season at the plate has probably put him out of the realm of possibility unless you add Xavier Cedeno as they are in need of a left handed reliever. Mejia was ranked #70 in the Baseball America Midseason Top 100.
If you look further out right handed pitcher Triston McKinzie could be a good get as he’s put up a 0.61 ERA in 44.1 IP while putting up a 9.54 K/9 and 2.84 BB/9, but he’s extremely far away as he’s in short season ball and 18 years old.
The Nationals have a real need for an upgrade at first base. Clint Robinson and Ryan Zimmerman have combined for a .219/.279/.388 and 74 wRC+, line good for -0.9 fWAR. Pearce would be a huge upgrade at the position he’s best at defensively.
A good target from DC could be center fielder Andrew Stevenson. He has struggled mightily since his promotion to AA as he’s hitting .216/.237/.279 39 wRC+ in 114 plate appearances. He was solid if not spectacular at A+ as he hit .304/.359/.418 115 wRC+. His calling card is good defense and speed.
The Mets could use Pearce in the utility infielder role, as James Loney could use a platoon mate and Pearce would fit that role perfectly. Furthermore, Neil Walker has struggled for the last couple of months and they could use him at 3B to help cover for David Wright.
For similar value, last year’s fifth round pick Thomas Szapucki could be an interesting target. This year he has struck out an absurd 14.59 K/9 and walked 2.79 BB/9 over 29.0 innings and five starts in rookie ball. The upside could be there, but he’s really far away.
I don’t think the Red Sox are a great fit as he’d be more a luxury than a necessity. His likely role would be a bench bat and depth. If it happened, Luis Alexander Basabe is a switch hitting outfielder with some potential. Currently he’s batting .263/.330/.468 124 wRC+ in his first season of full season baseball as a 19 year old, but why help a division rival?
Where Pearce will land
There hasn’t been much smoke surrounding Pearce which is a little surprising, but also understandable. He doesn’t have a great track record and he doesn’t bring defensive value anywhere.
I think a deal with the Nationals makes the most sense, particularly if they want to bring in something and want to keep their top prospects.
Without much of a bidding war, the price will be low, but there may still be a mystery team or a re-invigorated interest that could come out of nowhere to pick up a utility player who might be one of the best bats on the move this trade deadline.