In need of a right-handed hitter after trading Richie Shaffer to the Mariners on Friday, the Rays have “serious interest” in reuniting with free agent utilityman Steve Pearce, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The Rays are one of at least three teams in pursuit of Pearce, who has also drawn the attention of the Blue Jays and Mets.
Pearce, who will turn 34 in April, spent the first few months of last season with Tampa Bay after it signed him to a one-year, $4.75MM contract in January. The Florida native was excellent as a Ray, slashing .309/.388/.520 with 10 home runs in 232 plate appearances, but they fell out of contention and dealt him to AL East rival Baltimore at the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. He wasn’t nearly as successful with the Orioles, hitting .217/.329/.400 in with three homers in 70 PAs during his third stint with the team, and is now on the mend from September forearm surgery.
Despite both his less-than-stellar end to the season and current health issues, odds are Pearce will outdo his previous deal in terms of guaranteed value (MLBTR projects $10MM over two years). Pearce was coming off an underwhelming 2015 at the time, but even factoring in the .218/.289/.422 line he put up in 422 PAs that season, the journeyman has batted .266/.348/.485 in 1,148 trips to the plate since his breakout 2013 showing. Pearce’s combined wRC+ of 129 in the past four seasons ties him with the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, albeit across 1,415 fewer PAs, and he has shown versatility by playing all over the diamond.
Pearce spent time at first, second, third and designated hitter last season for the Rays, who could use a platoon partner for lefty-swinging first baseman Brad Miller and a DH. Miller has struggled versus southpaws throughout his career, including in 2016, while Pearce has recorded an outstanding .270/.353/.500 line against them in 689 PAs.