There's a decent chance that when the 2016 season opens in April, zero of the Orioles' impending free agents will be suiting up in a Baltimore uniform. Chris Davis has hit well enough to get a mega-contract somewhere, and Wei-Yin Chen is going to get paid as one of the best lefty starters on the market. Darren O'Day is likely to get elite reliever money, which is something the O's can't afford to do when they have so many other pressing needs. Gerardo Parra is someone who's hopefully re-signable, but he'll attract significant interest elsewhere as well.
Steve Pearce, though, is the forgotten guy from this free agent class. That's understandable: after a breakout 2014 season his OPS has dropped from .930 to .677, so he's not exactly someone O's fans are excited about right now. In all likelihood the decision of whether or not to re-sign Pearce is not going to have a major impact on the 2016 Orioles. Still, inking Pearce for cheap could be a good under-the-radar move by Dan Duquette this offseason.
Back in May, I wrote an analysis of why Pearce's offense had fallen off a cliff from 2014. It's a long read, but the summary was that Pearce was profoundly lucky in 2014 and just as unlucky at the beginning of 2015. Nothing in his in-depth stats (swing/contact rates, batted ball data, etc) indicated he had really changed as a hitter at all. My conclusion was that Pearce's "true talent" is around a .750ish OPS, and that there was no real reason to think he wouldn't hit at that level the rest of the year.
On May 15th, the date of that article, Pearce had a .532 OPS. Since then, he's slashed .232/.292/.451 for an OPS of .743 and a perfectly average wRC+ of 101 (author pats self on back). During that span he has a BABIP of .252, still well below league average, so even those improved numbers have been suppressed a little bit by bad luck. Pearce was starting to get hot in July when a oblique injury sidelined him for over a month, and the time he missed was right around the time the Orioles went DFA-crazy on their outfielders. While Pearce was out, the O's were penciling anyone with a pulse (Chris Parmelee, Henry Urrutia, etc.) into the starting right- and left-field positions. Had Pearce stayed healthy, there's a good chance he would've been playing nearly every day in the outfield instead of the scraps that were being tossed out there.
Pearce can play above-average defense at first base and in the corner outfield, and he showed this season that he can fill in at second base in an emergency without being a complete disaster. He's a versatile bench bat and part-time starter who can also be a competent DH against lefties, and he is capable of providing league-average or better production at the plate. Considering the amount of guys the O's have cut this season with wRC's in the 70s or worse, we know as well as anybody that league average offense shouldn't be taken for granted. Anyone who can provide it has at least some value, especially if that guy can play multiple positions.
Pearce is making $3.7 million this season and I doubt that number will take a massive jump next year. His overall numbers in 2015 still look pretty bad, so it's unlikely that anyone pays up too much based on his 2014 performance alone. Pearce also clearly likes being here, considering he once elected to remain a free agent and wait for a spot to open up on the Orioles instead of accepting a contract offer from Toronto. I still believe Pearce is a pretty good hitter and can be valuable to a contending team. Another one year contract at a similar or slightly higher salary seems about right, and as an Orioles fan I'd happily make that deal.
How about you, O's fans? Do you want to see Steve Pearce in an Orioles uniform on Opening Day? For what price? Let me know in the comments below.