After Turbulent Start With Orioles, Steve Pearce Having Career Year

Posted on July 09, 2014 by Jim Henneman

When should we expect the Orioles' perpetually unsettled fan base to start clamoring for a contract extension for first baseman/designated hitter Steve Pearce? I'm surprised it didn't start July 7 at the latest.

Steve Pearce

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

OK, slight exaggeration, but next question: How many out there realize Pearce will have close to six years of major league service after this season? Or that, horror of horrors, he will be a free agent after 2015? Granted, the service time was earned the hard way -- during eight seasons, starting in 2007 -- but consider that five years is halfway to the maximum in MLB's lucrative pension plan.

I doubt many even realize that after 2014, Pearce will, for the first time, finally be coming up on meaningful negotiations while eligible for arbitration. I mean, how many major league players do you think make less than $1 million and have more than four years of service time?

I don't really know that answer, and the MLB Players Association might be the only place to find out, but I'd be shocked if Pearce had any company in that category. And I'd be doubly shocked if there's was a player with as much service time making less than Pearce, whose $700,000 salary is barely higher than the $500,000 minimum. 

I'm not saying that's a bad salary for a part-timer, as Pearce has been throughout his career, but I'm going out on a limb here and predicting that the dynamics of the last month or so have put him in position to double up on the $2,235,000 he has made the previous five seasons.

Pearce is one of those players that people like to describe as having flown under the radar. He's been doing it for a long time in various places. His first exposure was with Pittsburgh. The Yankees, who surely could have used his bat this year, had him twice. 

Both times, during the 2012 season, the Yankees sold Pearce to the Orioles. The first time was June 2, on a straight cash deal, and the second was via a Sept. 29 waiver claim. That was just five days before the end of the 2012 season -- barely a week before the teams met during the American League Division Series.

In between his two stints, each with the Yankees and Orioles, Pearce worked in a layover in Houston, where one might have thought there was a need for a guy who should have been carrying a sign that said, "Have bat, have traveled, looking for permanent residence." 

And let's not forget that the Orioles hung the dreaded tag of designated for assignment on him in April 2014, when they were in the midst of one of those roster crunches that seem to pop up every 48 hours, or the day after Ubaldo Jimenez makes a start, whichever comes first. 

The O's were able to dodge that bullet only because first baseman Chris Davis came down with an oblique injury, and they were able to convince Pearce he had a better future in Baltimore than in Toronto after the Blue Jays made a waiver claim. So, even in the midst of an injury-induced slump, Davis made what has turned out to be a significant contribution.

It's doubtful that anyone other than Pearce's family members or close friends noticed, and even that might be a stretch, but Pearce reached a pair of milestones against the Red Sox July 5 and 6, when he surpassed previous career highs in at bats (165 with the Pirates in 2009) and plate appearances (188 during the turbulent 2012 season). He has another, even more significant, one on the horizon -- sometime shortly after the All-Star break, Pearce will play in his 62nd game, passing his previous single-season high of 61 in 2012.

He long ago had established personal highs in home runs and RBIs -- 10 and 30 and counting as the Orioles enter their final five games before the All-Star break -- two against the Washington Nationals and three against New York Yankees. This story, like the season, is a long way from finished, and it might be too early for rash predictions about Pearce's numbers when the final tally sheet is posted. But you can safely make one prediction about him. It will take two commas to post his salary next year.

Can an extension be far behind?

***

If there was any surprise about outfielder Nolan Reimold being claimed off waivers from the Orioles, it wasn't that the Toronto Blue Jays made the claim, but that the Red Sox didn't. With Edwin Encarnacion down for an extended period, the Blue Jays did have a need for a right-handed bat, and with a $500,000 salary for the remainder of his contract this year, Reimold was an inexpensive gamble.

With the Red Sox struggling to score runs, and with so many moving parts in the outfield, they could have taken the flyer on Reimold, and it wasn't even out of the question that the Yankees might be in the picture. If he can stay healthy, which is a big if, Reimold could help either of those teams.

***

On a health note, who would have predicted that former Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts would have almost 300 plate appearances and 23 extra-base hits while playing in 78 of the Yankees' first 89 games? His average has jumped from .232 through July 1 to .247 through July 8. 

Those numbers would have played well with the Orioles, and allowed them to buy time in the minor leagues for infielder Jonathan Schoop, but it wasn't a gamble they were willing to take. With few options after second baseman Robinson Cano left New York for the green pastures in Seattle (everything is green in the Great Northwest), the Yankees had little to lose by rolling the dice with Roberts.

***

I understand why Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane is getting kudos for being proactive and improving Oakland's pitching staff, that team's strongest feature, by acquiring starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs via trade. But you couldn't help but notice that after acquiring those pitchers, the A's optioned starter Tommy Milone to Triple-A Sacramento to make room on the roster. Milone had a 3-0 record during his latest six starts for Oakland.

I'm sure it's only temporary, but with those kinds of moves, exactly how much better will the A's really be? Detroit ace Justin Verlander, for one, told reporters the A's made the deal for Samardzija and Hammel in order to improve their chances against the Tigers during the playoffs. He might be right, but it might be too early to assume either team will be competing in the AL Championship Series.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.

next up:

Looking Back At Nolan Reimold's Orioles Career

July 09, 2014

Even though Nolan Reimold didn't spend a lot of time on the field during his five-year Orioles career, Paul Folkemer says he made a mark on the team.

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