Orioles bring back Steve Pearce in deadline deal with Rays

Steve Pearce brings defensive flexibility and another power bat to the Orioles lineup.

The Orioles didn’t make any major deals before Monday’s 4 p.m. nonwaiver trade deadline, but they did bring a familiar face back to Baltimore by re-acquiring first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce from the Tampa Bay Rays.

They sent minor league catcher Jonah Heim, the team’s fourth-round draft pick in 2013 who had been playing at High-A Frederick, to the Rays.

The acquisition of Pearce – who played part of the 2012 season and all of the 2013 through 2015 seasons with the Orioles – gives the club a right-handed power hitter who can play a variety of positions. He has played first, second, third and both corner outfield spots in his career. This season, he has seen action at first, second and third.

It allows the Orioles to play Pearce as part of a left-field platoon with Hyun Soo Kim. Pearce is a .273/.356/.504 career hitter against left-handed pitching and hit lefties at a .377/.476/.736 clip in 63 plate appearances this season.

“Steve Pearce is a proven, versatile veteran player who gives our club more punch and stronger defense whenever he is in the lineup and a stronger bench when he is not,” Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said.

Pearce, 33, was hitting .309/.388/.520 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 60 games with Tampa Bay. He returned to the Rays two weeks ago after missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury.

A fan favorite for his blue-collar style and ability to play all around the diamond, Pearce will give the Orioles seven players with double-digit home run totals.

"It was surprising it went all the way down there to the very end," Pearce told reporters in Tampa Bay. "We were counting down the seconds. I was hoping to stay but the moves were made. ... It's going to make the transition a lot easier [going to Baltimore]. Couldn't be happier where I'm going. ... I'm looking foward to hearing from [manager Buck Showalter]."

Pearce enjoyed his best years with the Orioles. He played a key role with the club's division title team in 2014, posting career highs in homers (21), RBIs (49), batting average (.293), on-base percentage (.373) and slugging percentage (.556). Pearce also led the team with 5.9 WAR (wins above replacement) that season. 

Pearce’s return to the Orioles is interesting because the team never made a play for him this past offseason when he was a free agent, even though he wanted to return. He instead signed a one-year, $4.75 million deal with the Rays.  

Now, Pearce finds himself going from a Tampa Bay team that entered deadline day 19 games under .500 to an Orioles club that had a half-game lead in the American League East before play on Monday. 

"It's going to be fun," Pearce said about being thrusted into a playoff race. "I got to experience it with those guys in 2014, so I'm excited to go back and continue doing it."

The Orioles have been playing with a three-man bench, so the addition of Pearce could mean the team goes back to 12 pitchers. The Orioles have had very little outfield depth since outfielder Joey Rickard went on the disabled list with a thumb injury.

The 21-year-old Heim was highly regarded by the Orioles for his skills behind the plate. He is a career .216 hitter in four minor-league seasons, but had already hit a career-high seven homers in 88 games with Frederick this season. Heim’s best asset, however, is undoubtedly his defense. He displayed a strong arm and good technique behind the plate.

The Orioles, however, also have Double-A Bowie catcher Chance Sisco, whose offensive tools made him the 85th-ranked prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. And they have Audry Perez and Francisco Pena catching at Triple-A Norfolk.

The acquisition of Pearce was the Orioles’ second move before the trade deadline. On Sunday, they acquired veteran left-handed starter Wade Miley from the Seattle Mariners for Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Ariel Miranda.

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