‘This is the place I wanted to be’: For Steve Pearce, staying in Boston was an easy decision
How many guys do you know have won a World Series MVP and then decided instead of cashing in on it, said, well, I’ll just stay with this championship team that I loved being on with a one-year, $6.25 million deal?
The correct answer would be “not many.”
But for Steve Pearce, it was a chance to be around family (some of whom live in New Hampshire) and a chance, as he put it, to “set up roots” rather than being whisked in a hundred different directions.
Pearce has been with seven teams in his career — the five in the AL East, the Pittsburgh Pirates (the team he started with), and the Houston Astros. He will turn 36 in April, and who knows how long he wants to play baseball? So if his career is coming close to an end, why not spend it where he really wants to be?
The Red Sox, according to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, were toying with a two-year offer for Pearce, but the one-year deal coincides with Mitch Moreland having one more season on his contract. Dombrowski likes the first base platoon that started last season after the Red Sox jettisoned Hanley Ramirez and brought in Pearce.
What the Red Sox found is that Pearce is pretty good against righthanded pitchers as well as lefties. And Dombrowski thinks they could find more playing time for him, whether it be at DH, second base, left field, or wherever. That will be up to Alex Cora.
“It’s easy because the team that I was on and the run that we had . . . I was really anxious to get back there next year,” Pearce said on a conference call Monday, days after getting his new one-year deal. “It was really an easy decision.
“It’s definitely nice. I finally have some roots to lay down. I’m excited, and this is a short offseason, so I need to get ready to go pretty soon.”
But why not entertain other offers?
“This is the place I wanted to be,” Pearce said. “Everything was done there, and bringing everybody back there, this is where I wanted to play.”
Pearce often made reference to how special this group was. Obviously, they won the World Series, but of all the teams Pearce has played for, this one stood out.
“You see them from afar and how much fun they had and how they played together, and when I got to join, I got to see the clubhouse, and they had chemistry on and off the field,” he said.
“They look like they have a great time every game. I fit right in. It was baseball played different. I knew then it’s where I wanted to play.”
In the five World Series games, Pearce hit .333 with 3 homers and 8 RBIs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. All four of his hits were for extra bases. He also had a .500 on-base percentage.
In Game 4, he hit a tying homer in the eighth inning, then added a three-run double in the ninth that sent Boston to a 9-6 win.
Then in the clinching Game 5, he connected for a two-run homer off Clayton Kershaw in the first inning and then had a solo shot off Pedro Baez in the eighth.
In 50 regular-season games with the Red Sox, Pearce hit .279 with 7 home runs and 26 RBIs. Four of those homers came in back-to-back wins over the Yankees in August.
Pearce always has been an under-the-radar kind of player. He’s never stood out because a lot of his career has been as a platoon player. But when he won the World Series MVP, he had recognition he never had experienced before.
“I’m a little bit more recognized,” he said. “I’ve been kept a lot more busy. I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’ll do whatever Alex wants me to do. I’ll be prepared for it.
“I’ll take one more week off and then I’m ready to go. I understand [fame] comes with the territory. You have to be ready for it and take it day by day and just keep doing what I’ve got to do.”
Dombrowski said negotiations took place with Pearce’s agent, Jim Murray, for two weeks and mostly were handled by Red Sox assistant general manger Brian O’Halloran. Dombrowski said he didn’t know whether the sides would get hung up with multiyear demands, which other teams were willing to give Pearce. All he knew is that he wanted Pearce back, and he hoped Pearce wanted to come back as much as he said he did.
Pearce said this was a slam dunk because of “the chemistry we had on and off the field and wanting to defend a title. That’s a big deal. I can accomplish that by going back to the Sox.”
The Red Sox are hoping Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Kelly, and Craig Kimbrel have a similar philosophy, but they’re all in different spots in their careers, and they may not be as willing to do what Pearce did.
Pearce proved you don’t need superstars to win big games. You need winners.
“When he came over here, you saw what he did on the field,” Dombrowski said. “He hits lefthanded pitching really well. He’s a good overall performer. He’s a veteran presence. He knows how to win.
“He just brought a lot to our team and in our clubhouse. He’s not afraid to get a big hit, as we saw.”
Yes, there were teams out there that would have offered more than the $6.25 million the Red Sox did. Pearce would have found a very robust market, but he made good on what he said at his World Series MVP press conference when asked whether he would like to return. Surrounded by friends and family from New Hampshire, he said he would like nothing better.
How many guys make good on that?
Steve Pearce did.