Steve Pearce Is on the Move, Again, in the AL East

With his trade to Boston on Thursday night, Steve Pearce has completed a personal odyssey. By joining the Red Sox, Pearce has now been employed by all five clubs in the American League East. The last leg in his tour of the division moves him from a club with little chance of making the postseason — a Blue Jays team that is beginning to think about next year (or, really, 2020) — to one that figures to be competing with the Yankees into September for a division title.

The Red Sox acquire Pearce for a specific reason: to help against left-handed pitching. The Red Sox have been below average (97 wRC+) against lefties this season, ranking 14th in baseball and eighth in the American League.

Pearce, meanwhile, has always hit lefties well. He owns a career slash line of .264/.346/.494 and 127 wRC+ against left-handers, and this season he has a .306/.358/.531 slash and a 143 wRC+ in 53 plate appearances against lefties. He has played first, left, and right field for the Blue Jays, so he gives the Red Sox options for getting his bat into the lineup.

Peace is a fit in another two other ways for Boston, as well. He has been launching balls into the air before that was a trendy thing. Pearce has a 0.93 GB/FB for his career. Nor is he merely an air-baller but a batter who is pull heavy. He’s directed balls to left field at a 53.8% rate this season. He’s directed a paltry amount of batted balls to the opposite field (15.4%). That combination should fit quite well at Fenway Park.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski explained the trade to Alex Speier of The Boston Globe:

“We’ve been looking for a guy that can hit versus left-hand pitching,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “Even though we’ve done better — in recent times we’ve swung the bat better — we still have talked about trying to add one more guy that we can put in the lineup against a tough left-hander. He’s traditionally hit left-hand pitching very well . . . He’s a threat to drive in runs, hits the ball out of the ballpark, so I think a guy [who can be] a key cog for us versus certain lefthand pitching.”

It’s the kind of small upgrade that can make a big difference in an AL East race that could go down to the wire. It’s a move that adds value at the margins, yes, but the Red Sox are in a position to do just that. While the Yankees and Red Sox appear to be postseason locks, FanGraphs’ odds give New York the edge for the division; the Red Sox enter play on Friday with a 41.7% chance of winning the East.

As for the Blue Jays, the club has apparently begun to shed assets and take a seller’s position, a logical approach given their 1.7% playoff odds. This author has argued earlier this season, as have others, that this is precisely the course the Blue Jays (37-43) — who are 17 games behind the first-place Red Sox — ought to take. The Blue Jays were a club that made some modest additions in the offseason in attempt to contend for a playoff berth, likely of the Wild Card variety in an AL landscape of Have and Have Nots. Due to a variety of issues, however, the club has fallen out of contention. (Some segment of their fanbase would argue the club didn’t do enough, as attendance is down 400,000 off last year’s pace.)

We should expect other assets to be moved in Toronto, as well, with J.A. Happ likely of great interest to a number of contending clubs.

But the shedding begins with Pearce. In flipping Peace, who is in the final year of a two-year, $12.5 million deal, the Blue Jays pick up an interesting infield prospect Santiago Espinal, a 10th-round pick in the 2016 draft.

While Espinal has not garnered much attention to date in his career, his .313/.363/.477 at High-A this season has placed him on some radars including garnering him Fringe Five acclaim and inclusion on the May 11th edition.

FanGraphs managing editor Carson Citstulli last month dubbed Espinal as one of the Matt Carpenters of High-A:

Selected out of Miami-Dade College in the 10th round of the 2016 draft, Espinal signed for just $50,000. In light of his diminutive stature, Espinal doesn’t appear to offer much projection on the power. Indeed, entering the season, he’d hit just four homers in over 600 professional appearances. Through just 133 plate appearances of the present campaign, however, Espinal already has five.

As is the case with many players who demonstrate this kind of improvement in the majors, Espinal is hitting many fewer batted balls on the ground. In fact, his ability to avoid both the whiff and ground is tops among players at High-A.

Espinal has dropped his ground-ball rate by 15 percentage points this season from 46.2% last season to 31.2% this year. He’s done that by maintaining excellent contact rates and boosting his isolated power from under triple-digits in his first two exposures to professional pitching in 2016 to 2017 to a .164 mark this season.

Espinal is not considered an elite prospect, but he has made himself into a minor-league player of interest. He’s played second, third, and shortstop in the Red Sox system. He gives the Blue Jays another prospect possibly capable of providing value on both sides of the ball. Remember: the Blue Jays’ Double-A team alone includes three legacy prospects in Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., in an infield that could be the foundation of future competitive Jays’ clubs. Vlad Jr. could be an elite bat. Perhaps Espinal can supplement that core in some capacity.

It’s a trade that makes quite a bit of sense for two clubs with very different on-field realities at that moment. The Red Sox could keep adding; the Blue Jays ought to keep shedding. The Red Sox have big dreams for today, the Blue Jays for tomorrow.

We hoped you liked reading Steve Pearce Is on the Move, Again, in the AL East by Travis Sawchik!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

newest oldest most voted
Damaso
Member
Damaso

NIce pickup for the Red Sox.

If Pearce stays healthy, he might be the starting 1B before long. The man can hit, and not just against lefties.

Espinal? Don’t have much confidence in a 23.5yr old with good not great numbers in A+, but it seems like he has legit contact ability at least. Still, can’t help but think the Jays could have done better for a guy who is probably one of the best bats available.

christopher
Member
christopher

Best way to use Pearce is as a DH. Less stress on the body. He cannot stay healthy otherwise

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Unless they DFA Moreland, Pearce isn’t starting at 1B against righties. That is the whole purpose of Mitch Moreland. Pearce does give them some depth in case they want to give an outfielder a day off, though…Benintendi can slide over to center (and Bradley can slide to RF) if they want to give someone a day off. Between him and Holt, they have a backup for pretty much every position.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

I suppose it’s also worth noting that Moreland doesn’t have nearly as big platoon splits as I thought–about 25 points of wRC+ for his career. And his wRC+ of 120-something against lefties this year is definitely better than Bradley’s 30-something (or even Benintendi’s 80-something).

Damaso
Member
Damaso

Last 3yrs vRHP

Pearce 111wrc+, +2.5uzr150 @1b
Moreland 101wrc+, +6.2uzr150 @1b

if Moreland cools off as expected and Pearce gets going, he could well end up the better bet at 1b even vRH.

Kibber
Member
Kibber

halfway thru the year Pearce has 53 ABs against LHP
major major health concerns exist

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Moreland is a platoon bat. If they want to replace him against right handed hitters, they’ll just DFA the fool.

But say, even if they did want to play Pearce every day, why on earth are they replacing him and not Benintendi or Bradley, who are definitely far worse against lefties than Moreland?

And with the defensive loss, you’re giving back over half of the offensive benefit anyway.

There are infinite universes out there, and so there is a universe in which it makes sense to replace Moreland at 1st full-time with Pearce. I do not think it is likely we live in that one.

Damaso
Member
Damaso

because Pearce stinks in the OF, and is good at 1B.