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Steve Pearce: The Strange Saga of the New York Yankees Utility Player

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Steve Pearce: The Strange Saga of the New York Yankees Utility Player
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Steve Pearce has played for three different teams this season; four, if you count the fact that he was a Yankee for two separate stretches.

He was a cast-off from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011, easily his worst season. But even in his better years, he never distinguished himself in black and gold.

Pearce was signed as a minor-league free agent at the beginning of the season by the Yankees, sold to the Baltimore Orioles in early June, claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros in late July, and re-sold to the New York Yankees in late August. That's a lot of transactions for one player in one season.

He had a strong showing with the Orioles and a weaker one with the Astros, but combining the two over a half season yields a performance close to his personal average. Extrapolating his best fractional seasons to a whole season might yield a moderately-above-league-average player, but taking his career as a whole yields a moderately-below-league-average player.

A league-average player is supposed to contribute two more wins than a replacement player, over the course of a whole season. During such a period, Pearce might be 1.5 wins above replacement (WAR), putting him closer to league average than replacement level. Even this might make him acceptable to the Yankees at this time.

Today's Yankees aren't quite the team that is usually a shoo-in for a postseason slot. With injuries to key players like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixiera, the falling off has been steeper at the bottom than the top end.

Which is to say, the Yankees haven't been able to find as many good replacements as normally has been the case in the past. That is because their farm system is bare of good prospects, and more marginal players than usual are already playing.

In his brief tenure with the Yankees, Pearce has gotten three hits in 12 at-bats, for a .250 batting average that reflects his career performance. But the home run he hit last night against the Orioles represents a month's worth of normal production for him. Meaning that if he hits a second one in September, he will have shown more power as a Yankee than has been the case over his career.

The Yankees have come down a bit compared to their past. Pearce may be coming up relative to his past. There might finally be a match between the two.

That is, if the Yankees continue to have injuries that require a substitute outfielder or first baseman. They also acquired another former Pirate (Casey McGhee) as a utility player (in a trade for reliever Chad Qualls).

And with a newly-respectable, though not championship, Pirates team, perhaps "former Pirate" might not be as pejorative a description as might have been the case a few years ago.

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