The Blue Jays signed utility man Steve Pearce to a two-year, $12.5 million deal Monday morning, further leading to the likelihood that fan favourite Edwin Encarnacion has played his last game in Toronto.
Pearce, who hit .288/.374/.492 with 13 homers in 85 games split between the Rays and Orioles last season, got the majority of his at-bats as a first baseman, but can also play around the infield and corner outfield positions. Among players with a minimum 300 plate appearances, the 33-year-old Pearce was one of the top offensive players in baseball last season, putting up similar offensive value (in much less time, mind you) to stars Robinson Cano, Mookie Betts, and Encarnacion.
Pearce, coming off forearm surgery that cut short his 2016 season, isn't an everyday guy, playing more than 100 games just once in his career, but his versatility and ability to wallop left-handed pitching made him an intriguing free-agent option for a number of teams. Pearce put up a 1.028 OPS against lefties in 2016, and has a mark of .901 against southpaws over the last three seasons. He had a .794 OPS against righties in 2016 (.811 since 2014), so he figures to also get ABs versus right-handers as well.
The Florida native was abysmal in 2015, but had a 5 WAR season in 2014, per FanGraphs, clubbing a career-high 21 homers with a .930 OPS. Pearce's defensive metrics paint him as a solid defender at first, but much less so in left field, which is where he's gotten his second most opportunities in the field over the last three years.
The Pearce signing comes a couple weeks after Toronto jumped on Kendry Morales early, throwing the switch-hitting designated hitter $33 million over three years. Morales will serve as the club's everyday DH, while Pearce appears to be in line to get lots of at-bats at first base, while rotating through the field. Toronto also has switch-hitter Justin Smoak under contract as another first-base option, perhaps working in tandem with Pearce to form a less-than-ideal platoon pairing.
Rumours have been swirling over the weekend and into Monday that the Blue Jays are also seriously interested in free agent Mitch Moreland, who hit 22 homers with a measly .720 OPS last season after a career year in 2015. The 31-year-old, who has spent his entire career with the Rangers, has historically struggled versus lefties and it's unclear how much Toronto may still be looking at him following the Pearce signing.
A Moreland-Pearce platoon is far less sexier than bringing back Encarnacion on a long-term deal, but it appears the Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins-led front office is determined to allocate resources to a number of players opposed to tying up big dollars to one star.
Last season followed the same script, as Toronto, from all accounts, had little interest in retaining ace David Price after he helped the club snap a 20-plus year playoff drought, and instead inked starters Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to shorter, more affordable deals.
Still, the deep-pocketed Blue Jays, who made enormous revenues and led the AL in attendance in 2016, have money to spend. While Encarnacion is an unlikely option at this point, especially if Moreland is the next to enter the fray, the club still has corner outfield holes and may be wise to look toward a reunion with Jose Bautista, whom they could also find ABs for at first and DH, especially toward the backend years of any deal. Dexter Fowler is the big-ticket outfield option following the Yoenis Cespedes-New York Mets agreement, but Toronto would have serious competition for the 30-year-old switch-hitter who posted a career-high .393 on-base percentage and helped lead the Cubs to a World Series title.