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Pearce offers lineup flexibility, lefty potency for Orioles

Baltimore cult hero Steve Pearce brings plus-offense versus lefties, and offers Buck Showalter lineup creativity.

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After the 2015 season, it appeared Steve Pearce had maxed out his supply of Oriole Magic.

Prior to last season, Pearce was perhaps the darkest horse in leading the O’s to their first AL East title since 1997, hitting .293/.373/.556 with 21 home runs, accumulating a 4.9 fWAR and 161 wRC+ in 102 games (crazy, right!). A year later, Pearce regressed back to a level becoming of his yester-years, slashing a ghastly .218/.289/.422. His 0.3 fWAR and 91 wRC+ in 92 games were met in the offseason with a cold shoulder, as the Orioles seemed more willing to look elsewhere than bring Pearce back on what would have been, and was (1-year, $4.8M), a relative bargain.

Fast-forward seven months and the Orioles’ separation anxiety, and a need for someone to hit lefties, forced executive vice president Dan Duquette to pull the deadline trigger and reacquire Pearce from the Tampa Bay Rays. Officially, the Orioles sent 21-year-old High-A catching prospect Jonah Heim to Tampa in a one-for-one swap for Pearce.

As much sentimental value as this trade carries for the Orioles, it garners equal merit as a savvy business move.

Pearce has ultimately regained his groove at the plate, having hit .309/.388/.520 with 10 home runs, to date. He’s been a 1.9 fWAR player in only 60 games, good for a 147 wRC+. Though, his outstanding marks have come against lefties, where he’s amassed a 1.225 OPS and 227 wRC+ in 64 plate appearances. As a team, the Orioles have the 3rd-lowest wRC+ (103), 6th-lowest wRAA (-12.0), and are dead middle in ISO (.160) versus left-handed pitching. Pearce brings a much-needed presence against a side of the mound the Orioles have struggled with this season.

As such, Pearce’s re-entry into the O’s lineup will create a shuffle among the incumbents, specifically for the likes of Nolan Reimold, Ryan Flaherty and Joey Rickard.

Reimold, a reverse-split righty (64 wRC+ vs. lefties) who plays both corner outfield spots, could see his playing time decrease substantially, or even fall victim to the ole DFA. Flaherty, though beloved by Showalter for his defensive versatility, is a strikeout machine (28.3 K%) who offers not much else than the occasional infield reinforcement. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Flaherty shuttled back between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk. Rickard, currently on the disabled list, has observantly held his own, hitting .268/.319/.377 as a Rule-5 rookie, but his -0.7 fWAR does more to tell the story. As the Orioles lone speedster and inherent roster inflexibility, we may see Rickard sequestered to more of a pinch-running, once-a-week start type role.

Pearce, despite his bulky, squatty appearance, has experience across the expanses of the diamond. He’s a good enough corner outfielder who’s instead played most of this year at first base. Perhaps more importantly, Pearce may actually be the solvent that moves human Erector-Set Mark Trumbo out of right field and into a more frequent and welcome designated hitter role. If it comes down to it, Pearce has major league experience at second base, and can spell Jonathan Schoop, who’s played in all 104 games for the Orioles, though Schoop is having a good year.

Sidestepping speculation, a Hyun-Soo Kim/Steve Pearce left field platoon looks mighty fine.

As for Heim, the Orioles were able to pluck from what a source of reasonable depth. With Future’s Game starter Chance Sisco and Alex Murphy both playing behind the plate at Double-A and Low-A respectively, Heim became somewhat expendable.

The switch-hitting Heim hit .220/.303/.348 to go with seven home runs at Frederick this year, but he’s known more for his already cemented defensive work in all aspects of catching. And despite the low offensive numbers, Heim is believed to be undergoing an offensive renaissance, which certainly adds to his future value.

Overall, it’s a deal that makes sense for both parties. The Orioles needed a guy that can hit lefties, and the Rays were able to flip a 32 year-old on a one-year deal for a potential everyday catcher.

For Orioles fans however, having Pearce back in Baltimore wins the deal on general, tender principles. It's a win for both the dugout and the fan base.

Nick Cicere is a weekly contributor at Beyond the Box Score, as well as Camden Chat, SB Nation's Baltimore Orioles blog. You can follow his Orioles musings on Twitter at @Swissere.