Re-signing Steve Pearce at an above-market price looks like a mistake right now
NEW YORK — There were still pieces of parade confetti sticking to the streets of downtown Boston when the Red Sox announced they had signed Steve Pearce to a one-year contract worth $6.25 million.
From an emotional standpoint, who could argue? Pearce had been named Most Valuable Player of the World Series after driving in eight runs over five games against the Dodgers. His two home runs in Game 5 set off celebrations around New England.
It was a feel-good coda to the season. Pearce was a 35-year-old plugger who had played for seven teams in his career and been released, traded or claimed off waivers a dozen times. Good for him getting a nice payday.
But once the sentiment washed away and the offseason wore on, it became clear the Red Sox had acted in haste.
The market for free agent first base/DH types in their mid-30s essentially didn’t exist. Those players were offered minor-league contracts with only a few exceptions.
The Dodgers declined their $6 million option for David Freese and re-signed him for $4.5 million. Matt Adams received $4 million from the Nationals. Justin Bour settled for $2.5 million from the Angels and Neil Walker $2 million from the Marlins.
Had the Sox waited just a month, Pearce almost certainly would have been cheaper to sign. Or they could have let just him go and gone with Michael Chavis or Sam Travis as a platoon partner for Mitch Moreland.
Sure, that would have been callous. But business is business, even after you win a championship. Just look at how the Patriots operate.
Here’s why it matters to the Sox: Pearce’s contract helped push the payroll to approximately $240 million as calculated for luxury tax purposes.
That’s closing in on the $246 million threshold that triggers the harshest penalties.
Signing Pearce for even $2 million less would have given the Sox more in-season wiggle room to make trades. That could be the difference in obtaining a relief pitcher you trust in the eighth inning or watching him go to another team.
The Sox can certainly afford a payroll over $246 million and any tax they would have to pay. But losing draft picks year after year will catch up to any organization in time.
This would all matter less if Pearce was still launching important home runs in big games. But he returned to the injured list before Saturday night’s game against the Yankees with a lower back strain.
Pearce, who left Friday night’s game after one at-bat, has played only 29 games this season and hit .180 with five extra-base hits and nine RBIs. He opened the season on the injured list with a calf strain and struggled when he returned.
His bat has been slow catching up with fastballs he used to crush. Pearce, a professional masher of lefthanded pitchers, is 8 for 40 against them with 16 strikeouts. If Pearce can’t hit lefties, he’s not much help to the roster.
Now comes another setback. This may not be a standard sore back, either. Pearce told the medical staff he had numb legs, too.
“That was an indicator [something was wrong],” said Pearce, who will go back to Boston to be further evaluated. “It wasn’t getting better.”
The trip from World Series hero to hitting .180 and coming off the roster was a quick one.
“It’s not really going according to plan,” Pearce said. “But it happened. Have to keep going.”
Manager Alex Cora is hopeful Pearce will be out only a short time. The Sox have Chavis and Brock Holt to handle first base in the meantime, and that could provide an offensive spark.
“Like I told him [Friday], let’s get you healthy first and then after that we’ll worry about the other stuff,” Cora said. “The main thing, the main goal, right now is to get him back on track. He’s a very important piece of our puzzle.”
Mitch Moreland, also out with a bad back, is eligible to return from the injured list on Wednesday and could be ready then. That would help.
As the Sox struggle to stay in the American League East race, decisions made months ago become important. Maybe Pearce will come up big down the road. But right now, it’s a move that backfired.