Posted on November 20, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Just a few months after trading him to the Baltimore Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays appear to have interest in bringing back free agent Steve Pearce, a versatile utility man. A report coming out of Tampa Bay suggests the Rays have “serious interest” in signing Pearce. That report comes on the heels of the Rays trading Richie Shaffer to the Mariners, creating the need for a right-handed hitter who can platoon at first base with Brad Miller, a description that fits Pearce perfectly.
Coming into the offseason, the Rays were expected to be more active in the trade market than with free agents, but Pearce seems to have made a strong impression on the Rays in just 60 games with them in 2016. Pearce signed with Tampa Bay last offseason after more than three years in Baltimore, only to be traded back to the Orioles at the trade deadline.
In those 60 games with the Rays, Pearce hit .309 with 10 home runs and 11 doubles, helping him post a .908 OPS despite missing a month with a hamstring injury. After the trade to Baltimore, Pearce was less impressive, hitting just .217 with three home runs in 25 games before succumbing to a season-ending arm injury.
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It stands to reason that the 34-year old’s value on the market could be hurt by the arm injury that ended his season in 2016. His struggles late in the season with the Orioles could also be an issue. Nevertheless, he brings plenty of defensive versatility, as Pearce can play first base, both corner outfield spots, and even second base and third base on occasion. That versatility, combined with the power at the plate he’s showcased over the past three seasons, makes him an attractive complementary player on the free agent market this winter.
The Rays aren’t expected to spend much this offseason, but they may be willing to make an exception for Pearce at the right price. In addition to being part of a platoon with Miller at first base, Pearce could also see time at DH and in Tampa Bay’s outfield, as the Rays have some question marks there depending on the health of Steve Souza Jr. coming off a season-ending hip injury in 2016.
Of course, the Rays are not the only team interested in signing Pearce. The Blue Jays and Mets are both reportedly showing interest. Of course, both teams likely see him as a backup option if they can’t sign their top choices, while the Rays appear to have Pearce towards the top of their free agent wish list.
In Toronto, Pearce may actually have a chance to be the every day first baseman if they don’t re-sign Edwin Encarnacion, depending on how they view Justin Smoak. Pearce could also add some much-needed pop to Toronto’s outfield if the Blue Jays don’t make a significant addition to the group they already have. Meanwhile, the Mets are still waiting out a possible return for Yoenis Cespedes, but Pearce could be a suitable backup plan for New York is Cespedes or a comparable player can’t be signed.
The fact that the Rays could make Pearce more of a priority than the other teams showing interest in him could help persuade him to return to Tampa Bay. That could leave the door open for the Rays to sign Pearce relatively quickly. However, Pearce may want to wait out other free agent signings to see if the market opens up for him among teams like the Blue Jays and Mets who don’t get their first choice signing.