TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays began selling off their pending free agents Thursday by sending first baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce and cash to the Boston Red Sox for minor-league shortstop Santiago Espinal.
Pearce, finishing off the $12.5-million, two-year deal he signed as a free agent in December 2016, gives the AL East leaders a versatile right-handed power bat who has posted an .868 OPS in 26 games.
The emergence of Justin Smoak last year and Teoscar Hernandez this year along with the ongoing presence of DH Kendrys Morales made Pearce, who returned from a lengthy DL stint last week, a difficult fit on a roster heavy on outfielders.
He had a penchant for the dramatic when healthy over the past two seasons, hitting two walk-off grand slams in the span of four games last year, while delivering a ninth-inning homer to secure a 4-1 win last Saturday at Anaheim.
Coming back for Pearce in the first trade between the clubs since the Blue Jays sent manager John Farrell and David Carpenter to the Red Sox for Mike Aviles in 2012 is Espinal, a 10th-round pick in 2016 who wasn’t listed in Boston’s top 30 prospects by Baseball America.
Espinal, listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, is a 23-year-old was batting .314/.364/.478 in 64 games with high-A Salem.
The Blue Jays believe the athletic infielder has a chance to stick up the middle with the potential for everyday upside. He’s described as a tough out at the plate with good feel for the strike zone and strong bat-to-ball skills, as well as being a hard worker with the aptitude to make adjustments.
He’s the type of down-the-system, lottery-ticket-type player that rental veterans like Pearce typically move for at this time of year. Sending some cash with Pearce to the Red Sox likely gave the Blue Jays a better choice of prospect, and their chances of getting value back depends on their scouting.
The Blue Jays have plenty of other pending free agents they can move, with J.A. Happ likely to bring back the biggest return with Josh Donaldson’s status uncertain. Also on expiring contracts are Marco Estrada, Curtis Granderson, Seunghwan Oh (club option), John Axford, Tyler Clippard and Aaron Loup.