The New York Yankees have signed Steve Pearce, 28, to a minor league deal. Pearce, a first baseman and corner outfielder, was recently let go by the Minnesota Twins who had signed him to a minor league deal this past December. Pearce has spent some time in the Majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates, most recently in 2011. For his career, Pearce, once a highly regarded prospect a few years ago, has hit only .232 with 9 homers and 52 RBI and a .302 OBP. He struck out 104 times in 465 at bats with Pittsburgh.
Yesterday, the Yankees signed Jack Cust, a 33 year-old power hitter and claimed catcher Craig Tatum off of waivers from the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees signed Cust, who was recently cut by the Houston Astros, as insurance in case Raul Ibanez, the 40 year-old free agent the Yankees signed this past offseason to be their DH doesn’t pan out. Tatum was claimed because prospect Austin Romine has been suffering from a bad back and the Yankees wanted another catcher on the roster for depth in case Romine will need to spend some time on the disabled list.
These are nothing more than organizational moves. However, the signing of Pearce raises some questions about the future of Jorge Vazquez, the power-hitting AAA first baseman. Vazquez recently publicly expressed his irritation at facing another season in AAA and the Yankees could be looking to trade him or allow him to seek a deal to play in Japan. Vazquez, 30, has plenty of power but has shown a propensity for striking out 261 times over the past two season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre while hitting 50 home runs over that same time period.
In adding Cust, the Yankees have given themselves a fall back option, much like Russell Branyan was supposed to be before his back started acting up. He can be stashed away at AAA where he can hit his home runs and await a call from the Yankees. Cust is one of the more predictable players in baseball. His at bats result in a strikeout, walk, or home run 49.3% of the time since 2009. That is pretty much all Cust is good for, a power bat off the bench or someone you can slide in against right handers at DH every once in a while.
Pearce, on the other hand is still young enough to have a little prospect shine still on him. Only 28 years-old, he was once considered the first baseman of the future in Pittsburgh until he failed to realize his potential. In 2007, Pearce went from Single A all the way to AAA and clubbed 31 homers, drove in 113 runs, hit .333, clubbed 40 doubles, and scored 94 runs. He earned his first taste of the big leagues in 2007 and hit .294 in limited action in September of that year.
Adding Pearce won’t suddenly make Mark Teixeira fear for his job. Instead, the signings of Cust and Pearce might mean that the Yankees are afraid they will lose Justin Maxwell, who is out of options and must clear waivers before being sent down to the minor leagues, or that they are prepared to let Jorge Vazquez pursue a baseball career somewhere else. Regardless, these moves give the Yankees a little flexibility and insurance as they prepare their final roster moves for Opening Day.