Pearce heating up, but may be trade chip

Versatile Blue Jays vet rips HR, go-ahead single

July 18th, 2017

BOSTON -- It took longer than initially expected, but the Blue Jays are starting to see a strong return on one of their key offseason additions.

Steve Pearce got off to a rough start, and his year went from bad to worse following an extended absence with a calf injury. Since his return in late June, though, Pearce has been everything the Blue Jays could have hoped for, with the latest example coming during a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox on Monday night at Fenway Park.

Pearce, who hit a solo home run in the second and added the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth, is batting .375 (24-for-64) with four homers, three doubles and 12 RBIs in 23 games since coming off the disabled list.

"Just finding a comfort zone," Pearce said. "That's really the end. Mechanically, you can do whatever you want, but when you feel comfortable, you can almost find a way to slow the game down. ... Showing up at the park every single day just to find that comfort zone, and I was able to get that immediately when I came back."

Left field for the most part has been a black hole -- offensively and defensively -- for Toronto. The Blue Jays entered play Monday with a .682 OPS out of left field, which ranked 11th in the American League, and their defensive metrics have consistently been lower than that. Eight players have been used at the position, but no one really seized the role full time until now.

The plan going into the season was to make Pearce the everyday left fielder, but a .167 average and .377 OPS at the end of April had many believing that was a mistake. His production started to turn around in May, but that was cut short with a strained calf. Pearce managed to pick up right where he left off and for now, there's no longer any question about who starts, but it remains to be seen how long that will be the case.

Pearce's uptick in production is coming at the same time Toronto's front office is trying to figure out its plans for the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Blue Jays aren't expected to become full-blown sellers, but the market will be explored for their pending free agents, and even though Pearce has an extra year of control, he might be shopped as well.

The 34-year-old was in a similar spot last season when he was dealt from the Rays to the Orioles. He's exactly the type of role player a lot of contenders look to add for a stretch run, but the Blue Jays also won't give him away. With an eye toward contending in 2018, Toronto may opt to keep Pearce in the fold, take its chances the rest of the season and deploy him again next year with an affordable salary of $6.25 million.

"He has been playing great," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We got him for a reason. We knew he could hit and he's really doing a nice job."