NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Blue Jays added some much-needed versatility and an increased ability to hit lefties by signing utility man Steve Pearce to a two-year deal Monday morning on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings. Pearce will earn $12.5 million over the course of the deal.
Pearce hit .288/.374/.492 with 13 home runs and 35 RBIs in 85 games for the Rays and Orioles last season.
Blue Jays sign Steve Pearce to a two-year, $12.5M deal
He has the ability to play first base, the outfield and occasionally second or third in a well-rounded defensive skill set.
It's not immediately clear exactly how the Blue Jays plan on utilizing Pearce, but in all likelihood, he'll play first on a pretty regular basis. He appears to be a platoon partner for Justin Smoak, but that could change if Toronto adds another first baseman or if it surprisingly re-enters the Edwin Encarnacion sweepstakes.
The Blue Jays gained a reputation over the past couple of years as a team that is extremely tough on lefties, but that wasn't really the case in 2016. They ranked 16th in the Majors with a .747 OPS, and they were 24th with a .249 average. Pearce should help address those issues, as evidenced by a career .852 OPS vs. lefties and a 1.028 OPS in a limited sample of 95 plate appearances this past season.
Pearce is a .254/.333/.441 career hitter with 66 homers in 10 seasons with the Pirates, Orioles, Astros, Yankees and Rays. He signed a one-year deal worth $4.75 million with Tampa Bay in January, and he was traded to Baltimore for the final two months of the 2016 season.
Toronto's decision to sign Pearce is yet another sign that the club does not appear to be a serious threat to re-sign Encarnacion to a lucrative multiyear deal. He continues to be linked to the organization through various reports, but Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins has gone on record to suggest the signing of designated hitter Kendrys Morales made it less likely that the star slugger would return.
Encarnacion certainly does not require a platoon partner, so the only way Toronto could realistically accommodate Encarnacion, Morales and Pearce on the same roster is if Pearce spent the majority of his time in the outfield. That's possible, but not likely, and it's still expected that Encarnacion will eventually sign elsewhere after he declined a four-year deal worth $80 million earlier in the offseason.
The Blue Jays also were linked to free-agent first baseman Mitch Moreland in a report from Sportsnet late Sunday night. Pearce's signing could eliminate that possibility, or the club could platoon Moreland and Pearce at first, but then Toronto would have to find a taker for Smoak, who is under contract for the next two seasons at $8.5 million.
Gregor Chisholm /

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