2016 Statistics: 85 G, 302 PA, .288/.374/.492, 13 HR, 35 RBI, 135 wRC+, 2.0 WAR
Age on Opening Day 2017: 34
With a number of competent veterans dotting the roster, the Yankees don't have many areas in dire need of an upgrade. There might not be much star power on the team, but with such a weak free agent class, there is little chance for New York to make a significant improvement with just one signing.
Even so, there are a couple of positions that could at least use a little depth. The first base situation is uncertain, and Greg Bird, even with his potent bat and equally potent eyebrows, is something of a question mark returning from shoulder surgery. With Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge coming off rough seasons, right field isn't set in stone. Plus, with the departure of Brian McCann, the Yankees have at-bats to spare at DH.
The Yankees might not have urgent needs at any of those spots, but they could use insurance in case the kids struggle. There are a few players on the market that could fill such a role, such as more expensive targets like Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo, or less-heralded players like Brandon Moss or Michael Saunders. Yet if the Yankees decide to pursue a corner infield/outfield bat, perhaps the most intriguing name is former Yankee Steve Pearce.
Despite that home run, back when Pearce was on the Yankees, his major league career wasn't going very well. Across 2011 and 2012, Pearce played for four teams and totaled a slash line of just .225/.303/.332. However, in 2013, his age-30 season, Pearce began to turn things around. He recorded only 138 plate appearances that year, but at least managed a strong 115 wRC+. He then put together one of the more shocking breakout seasons in recent memory in 2014, posting a terrific .293/.373/.556 line and a 161 wRC+ with the Orioles. He played in only 102 games in 2014, but still totaled nearly 6.0 rWAR.
That version of Pearce is almost certainly never coming back, but he still proved himself to be a useful contributor in 2016. His .288/.374/.492 line with Tampa Bay and Baltimore was good for a 136 wRC+, and seemed to indicate that Pearce, while not a superstar, could at least remain a quality major league bat into his 30's.
It is notable that the late career success Pearce has enjoyed came entirely in part-time roles. Pearce hasn't dropped below 300 plate appearances over the past three seasons, but he also has never eclipsed 400 either. There is no reason to believe at this stage of his career that Pearce will ever be an everyday starter.
Yet that kind of part-time player could fit well on the Yankees. New York doesn't need someone to take at-bats every day at first base or in the outfield. Rather, a player that can field multiple positions and play three or four times a week, as Pearce has done, could be a suitable complement to players like Bird and Judge.
Pearce's right-handed swing would also set him up as a platoon partner with Bird at first base or designated hitter. He has mashed lefties over his career. Here are Pearce's splits against left and right handers the past four years:
|Slash line vs. L||wRC+ vs. L||Slash line vs. R||wRC+ vs. R|
2015 looks like an outlier for Pearce, who has a career 130 wRC+ against left-handers. He is middling versus right-handers and doesn't profile as a strong defender in either the infield or outfield, but Pearce has a clear strength that would fit well on the Yankees.
As a late-bloomer entering his age-34 season, Pearce comes with risk. He is at the age where sluggers typically exhibit signs of decline, but his age does mean he should come cheap. MLB Trade Rumors pegged Pearce for just a $10 million guarantee across two years, while Jon Heyman predicted 2 years, $8 million, a pittance for the mighty Yankees.
At that price, there isn't much downside to taking a flyer on a veteran power bat. McCann is gone now, and the Yankees will inevitably be in the market for a bat, even if they are convinced their younger hitters won't need backups. Pearce has his warts, but compared to the likely prices attached to players like Bautista and Trumbo, there's a chance Pearce could be a bargain.