Rob Biertempfel reports that the Pittsburgh Pirates have been granted a fourth option year for Steve Pearce, after the first baseman/right fielder spent most of the 2010 season on the 60-day disabled list.
On one hand, this is good news for the Pirates, as Pearce can be retained in AAA if he doesn’t make the major league team out of Spring Training. The Pirates have a potential logjam on the bench as far as outfield options go, with John Bowker out of options, and Pearce and Alex Presley each with options remaining. That doesn’t factor in Lastings Milledge, who could be forced to the bench if the Pirates acquire an external option for first base or right field.
On the other hand, Pearce needs to be in the majors. It’s now or never for Pearce, who has a career .240/.313/.394 line in 371 major league at-bats. He had a big year in AAA last year, with a .326/.424/.535 line in 129 at-bats, followed by a .276/.395/.414 line in 29 at-bats in the majors before getting injured. Pearce doesn’t have much to prove at the AAA level. At the major league level he’s had success against left handers, with a .304/.372/.557 line in 115 career at-bats, compared to a .211/.286/.320 line in 256 at-bats against right handers.
Pearce could battle with Milledge as a platoon option in right field, or he could battle Bowker for a bench spot. Milledge and Bowker are out of options, so the move gives the Pirates some flexibility. However, the Pirates shouldn’t be concerned with maximizing their assets at this point. The only way Pearce should be optioned to AAA next season is if he’s legitimately beat out by Milledge and Bowker for a 25-man roster spot.
Biertempfel also reports that Kevin Hart and Jeff Clement are on pace to return in time for early Spring Training. Hart is out of options, so he will need to start the year on the 25-man roster or the disabled list, or be waived. My guess is that he ends up in a bullpen role. Clement was outrighted to AAA last week.