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What the Steve Pearce signing means for the Red Sox

How does he fit and who is affected?

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As you may or may not have heard, the Red Sox made their first “real” move of the offseason on Friday, re-signing World Series hero Steve Pearce to a one-year, $6.25 million deal. There was some question, from myself as well as others, about whether or not Pearce’s late-season and postseason run would earn him a more lucrative deal in terms of both contract value and playing time. That doesn’t appear to be the case, though it is worth noting that he clearly wanted to come here, so it’s at least possible he turned down other opportunities for this. Whatever the case, all that matters for our purposes is that Pearce is going to be in a Red Sox uniform in 2018.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that this is good for the team, and we’ll look at this from a few angles today. In terms of payroll, his affect on the luxury tax is the same as it is on the regular ol’ payroll since it’s just a one-year deal. With his $6.25 million added to the docket, the team’s overall luxury tax-based payroll now sits at $223 million by my calculations. That includes some arbitration estimates and other unofficial numbers, but the Red Sox have something close to $23 million left to spend before going over that high luxury tax threshold. Remember, if they go over the $246 million mark this year they will have their top draft pick dropped back by ten spots.

On the field, Pearce showed himself to be a capable player who helps the Red Sox in multiple ways. Obviously, his offense is the best part of his game. In 165 regular season plate appearances after being traded to Boston, the veteran hit .279/.394/.507 for a 143 wRC+ (meaning he was 43 percent better than the league-average hitter). He’s particularly great against lefties, posting a 154 wRC+ against them in 2018, but he held his own against righties as well to the tune of a 124 wRC+. He’s actually a bit underrated in that respect. He’s also underrated with the glove. Pearce came to Boston with a reputation of a bat-only player, but he showed some real defensive skills in the postseason, particularly with respect to stretching. The veteran also appeared to be, from the outside at least, a strong presence in the clubhouse. So, there’s a lot to like about Pearce in terms of his skillset.

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Now, how does it affect the roster? Well, first we have to look at what Pearce’s role will be. Fortunately, this one is pretty straight forward. For one thing, he is going to play against every left-handed pitcher the Red Sox face next year. Just having him to try and help them improve their performance against Blake Snell makes this deal worth it, to be honest. Pearce is also going to play a fair amount against righties as well. He’ll give Mitch Moreland some time off so he doesn’t wear down through the year, and he’ll also slide into the DH spot as the Red Sox work in rest for J.D. Martinez and the outfielders. There’s also the possibility that Moreland goes through another extended cold streak at some point this year, and having Pearce in tow from the get-go will be valuable in case it comes early in the year this time around. I don’t see Pearce playing any spot besides first base and DH unless it’s a complete emergency.

As far as the roster goes, this pretty much puts the nail in the coffin for all three catchers sticking around. With Pearce in tow, here are the position players minus the catchers.

  1. Mitch Moreland
  2. Steve Pearce
  3. Dustin Pedroia
  4. Eduardo Núñez
  5. Brock Holt
  6. Xander Bogaerts
  7. Rafael Devers
  8. Andrew Benintendi
  9. Jackie Bradley Jr.
  10. Mookie Betts
  11. J.D. Martinez

Assuming everyone is healthy, that means there are only two more spots for position players. As we’ve discussed, the Red Sox have a number of options with their catchers, and it should be mentioned that nothing needs to be imminent at this point. They can carry all three all the way through spring training if they want before making a decision. They could also trade guys like Brock Holt or Eduardo Núñez to make room, though that would surprise me. The most likely path towards keeping all three catchers would be another majors injury to Dustin Pedroia that would shift Blake Swihart back to a super utility role, but given how unwilling they seemed to be to use him that role in 2018 I wouldn’t expect it. As I said in the linked post above, re-signing Pearce would basically mean they can’t keep all three catchers, and I still believe that to be true.

All in all, it’s hard to complain about this move. The Red Sox get a guy who has proven he loves it here, has had success here and fits perfectly as a platoon partner at first base and someone to get rest for other guys up and down the roster. Plus, Pearce is a World Series MVP. Seeing him in another uniform so soon after would have been a bummer.