When a team acquires a player at the trade deadline in order to bolster the team for the playoff chase and the playoffs themselves, and that player lands on the 60-day disabled list in mid-September, it's safe to say that trade didn't quite work out. That's where the Orioles stand with Steve Pearce, who will be getting season-ending surgery to repair flexor tendons in his right arm.
Pearce, whom the Orioles acquired from the Rays in exchange for catching prospect Jonah Heim, was batting .309/.388/.520 at the trade deadline, and he seemed to be a player who might be able to fill a role the Orioles needed: A bat actually capable of hitting left-handed pitching.
It was a nice idea in theory, and, Pearce being an ex-Oriole who had been a key contributor on the 2014 division-winning team, it was a feel-good story for them to get him back. The trade hadn't quite worked out even without the injury, since Pearce only batted .217/.329/.400 in 25 games with the O's, but it was something where you could at least understand the rationale.
Except it's not quite that easy. Ever since the injury was first aggravated with the O's after the trade, you could peer at Pearce's season stats and wonder why he never played even one inning of outfield with the Rays. Sure, they have better outfielders than the Orioles do, but with as well as he was hitting, you'd think they'd squeeze him in wherever they could.
What if Pearce had been hurt all along? This seemed crazy to think about, the Orioles reputation for the physical being what it is - though of course there's no taking a fresh physical for a trade, just reviewing of medical information. The Orioles wouldn't actually trade for a player they knew to be injured, would they?
The Baltimore Sun's Eduardo Encina answered the question in an article on Monday night:
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said the club was well aware of physical limitations Pearce had when the returned to Baltimore in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.
"We reviewed the medical and we know Steve Pearce, we had him," Duquette said. "Unfortunately, he had an injury with us that made things considerably worse than when he came. We had a good idea [of his health], but having said that, we expected that he would finish the season and help us in the playoffs."
This is the kind of stuff that, when you add it to the pile of other bad Duquette moves, really can drive you crazy. The Orioles genuinely knew there were physical limitations to Pearce and still decided to make the trade, knowing that they intended to try to use him as a corner outfielder?
Encina adds later in the article that Pearce specifically did not play outfield in Tampa due to the issue with his arm, and further, that Pearce stopped playing second base after May 31 due to the same issue. They seem to have never wanted him to actually have to make a hard throw. And then here comes the Orioles, throwing him into left field almost immediately and aggravating that injury almost immediately.
The Pearce trade has quite suddenly gone from a bad luck trade made for a good reason to an absolutely infuriatingly short-sighted trade made out of desperation. No desperation Orioles trade has worked out in the Duquette era and with the kinds of moves he makes when he gets really stuck, I won't be holding my breath waiting for the first.
The Orioles definitely did need a player to hit lefties. Preferably, they would get a real outfielder in the process, which Pearce certainly isn't, but a lefty-masher would have been fine. Their outfield defense could hardly get worse by putting Pearce out there.
There has been a season-long need for another player like that in the lineup. They might even need more than one. The Orioles are the single worst American League team by OPS when it comes to hitting lefties, with a .233/.301/.390 batting line. That's why they got Pearce. It wasn't a bad idea, except for when you take the injury thing into consideration.
Why would they make that trade at all if they had awareness of Pearce's limitations? That's ridiculous! It's not like this is some wild conspiracy theory. Duquette openly conceded the reality to an Orioles reporter. The Duquette-bashing crowd will surely add this to fuel their ever-burning bonfire of hatred for the O's GM.
One can defend a lot of what Duquette does, even some of the moves that don't work out, but there's nothing to say in defense of a move made that didn't work out due to an injury that the Orioles apparently knew about before the trade. That's the Orioles talking themselves into a bad idea that they really should have known better than to make happen.
Now the only real question with the trade is how much Heim makes them regret it into the future. Perhaps not much. Although Heim had a very strong defensive reputation in the O's system, things hadn't yet clicked so well for him when it came to hitting. The 21-year-old Heim batted .216/.300/.344 in 88 games with High-A Frederick before the trade.
That's not looking like a guy who's going to be causing Orioles fans grief as he succeeds for another MLB team the very next year, such as Zach Davies with Milwaukee or Steven Brault with Pittsburgh. Heim is going to have to improve to even get himself up to the level of expectations for hitting for an MLB backup. Maybe he never will. But the Orioles would have been better off keeping him rather than crossing their fingers to re-acquire Pearce.
The short-sightedness of the trade is simply astounding. Duquette has done many good things while in charge of the Orioles - see how they're in the postseason hunt for the third time in five seasons since he took over, and they haven't had a losing season yet - but his trades to try to improve the team in the middle of a season really leave something to be desired.
Knowing what's now known, the Orioles took a chance in trading for Pearce that they never should have taken. The Pearce move is no longer defensible in any way. They didn't get what they convinced themselves they'd get out of him, and now they're out a possible backup catcher of the future. Stop making stupid win-now trades that don't even help the Orioles win now!