General manager Al Avila has had a busy week at the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville, but it's not over yet. Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi has reported that the Detroit Tigers have had talks with free agent outfielder Steve Pearce and his agent. At the moment, it seems that Pearce's price tag is too high for the utility role that the Tigers envision. The former Oriole is coming off a rough season where he hit just .218/.289/.422 in 325 plate appearances.
The Tigers are currently looking for a utility player who can play both the infield and outfield, preferably a right-handed bat to compliment the Tigers trio of outfielders who don't hit left-handed pitchers very well (not including J.D. Martinez, of course). Pearce played first base, second base, third base, and both corner outfield positions during the 2015 season, and mashed 15 home runs with 42 RBI in a utility role. He played more left field than any other position, and logged over 200 innings at first base, playing sparingly elsewhere in the infield.
*Defensive metrics are for outfield only
Who is he?
Pearce is a 32-year-old righty who was drafted in the eighth round of the 2005 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues, but just this year accumulated over six years of MLB service time to qualify for free agency. He made his major league debut in 2007 and spent the next five seasons in a part-time role with the Pirates. He was released after the 2011 season and bounced between the Twins, Orioles, Yankees, and Astros before settling down in Baltimore.
Why should we be interested?
Pearce had a breakout season in 2014, when he smashed 21 home runs in 383 plate appearances for the Orioles. Pearce hit .293/ .353/ .576 in a career-high 102 games, posting 4.9 fWAR for the year, a very impressive tally for a part-time player. He spent four years in an Orioles uniform, hitting .258/.338/.478 with 43 home runs and 116 RBI in 929 plate appearances, a very efficient per-162-game pace. He also has a career walk rate of 9.2 percent, and mashes left-handed pitching, hitting .262/.343/.481 against southpaws for his career.
In a utility role throughout his career, he has played 196 games in the outfield, 172 at first base, and 28 games between second and third base. Pearce's work at the hot corner came in 2015, and his career fielding metrics have largely been positive, but better in the outfield than the infield. Pearce's versatility would be valuable, and while he is not as good defensively as someone like Andrew Romine, he has the offensive upside to provide some insurance should Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez come up gimpy at any point.
Why should we stay away?
Pearce's offensive and defensive numbers fell off in 2015, resulting in a 0.3 WAR season. Over 200 of his 325 plate appearances came against right-handed pitching, but his numbers against lefties were the main reason for decline. If the Tigers are looking for a lefty masher in left field, Pearce hit just .196 against southpaws in 2015, well below his career norms. His 7.1 percent walk rate was his lowest since 2011, while his .232 BABIP was a career-low.
MLB Trade Rumors projected a two-year contract for Pearce worth $14 million, or $ 7 million per season. That would be pricey for a platoon outfielder or utility player who isn't going to play full time. The Tigers have already indicated that Pearce is out of their price range, as he is probably asking for even more than that amount. He would be a steal if he could repeat his 2014 numbers, but with just one above average season under his belt as he exits his prime, relying on that is a risky bet.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Pearce's profile would seem to be more in line with what the Tigers need, rather than another backup infielder-type who can play some outfield. The Tigers' run production plummeted after the All-Star break in 2015, and the addition of Cameron Maybin doesn't fully replace the lost offensive production in the outfield. The Tigers have not historically carried a player of Pearce's ilk on their roster, but this offseason has signaled a major change in their organizational philosophy. Still, Pearce's asking price may be too high for the type of player they have in mind to round out their bench.