Bernstein: Kevin Pillar trade was just what Giants needed, for now

Trade for Pillar is typical of pre-rebuild teams, and helps shore up a heavily left-handed lineup

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy spent much of the opening series weekend against the Padres lamenting the left-handedness of his lineup. Against southpaw starters Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi, that tilt contributed to his squad scoring just two runs in the first 18 innings of the campaign. Unspoken, though, was the fact the team’s two new right-handed bats seemingly did not belong on an MLB roster, let alone leading off and hitting sixth on Opening Day like Michael Reed and Connor Joe did last Thursday.

Reed and Joe went a combined 0-for-18 to start the season, prompting San Francisco to trade for right-handed outfielder Kevin Pillar from the Blue Jays on Tuesday and designate Reed for assignment.

While the move will not fix the larger issues the Giants face, nor lift them from the NL West basement, it will at least spare Bochy from utilizing a setup he clearly did not feel comfortable with. Pillar is a solid MLB bat who can mash left-handed pitchers and provide the lineup more balance than before.

While Pillar was widely considered one of the best defensive center fielders in MLB as of a couple of years ago, his age has likely made him simply good at the position these days. When he’s able to platoon and hit mostly left-handed pitchers, he can be successful at the plate, too. For his career, he’s a .279 hitter against southpaws with an OPS of .745.

Used alongside left-handed hitter Steven Duggar, Pillar could give a barren Giants lineup a position of relative strength.

San Francisco parted with utility man Alen Hanson, reliever Derek Law and prospect Juan DePaula to complete the deal. None of those players are billed as future stars or really even regular MLB talents, making it a quality transaction for the team with little risk involved.

Still, it remains unclear whether new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi’s personal affinity for Joe will be worth setting aside in-house options, such as Mac Williamson.

Williamson, of course, has hit 13 home runs in 120 career games but was sidelined most of 2018 due to a concussion.

Last week, the day after the Giants designated Williamson for assignment, Bochy attributed the move to needing a center fielder more than a corner outfielder and noted that Zaidi was familiar with Joe from the utility man’s time with the Dodgers.

“We just didn’t have a spot on the club,” Bochy said. “I know it’s going to be disappointing for Mac, and we looked at the outfield situation and we just didn’t have anyone who stepped up in that time in spring training.”

Williamson hit .237 in the spring.

Another takeaway from early season shuffling that may get lost in the conversation is the stinging rebuke it has offered from Zaidi toward Austin Slater, who under the previous regime was considered at least a fourth outfielder of the future in San Francisco and had drawn positive internal reviews for his ability to mend his plate approach.

Slater, a right-handed hitter, showed positional versatility in 2018, and despite an overall underwhelming campaign with the bat, had at least handled lefties well. His .292 career average against southpaws seemingly a fit on a roster in need of that type of support. But, following a putrid spring training in which he hit .185 in 12 games, he was sent to Triple-A Sacramento.

Slater is not capable of manning center field, which likely hurt his chances of breaking camp. Because he still had minor-league options, the Giants were able to stash him in their system, and he may eventually get another mid-season call-up.

As frustrating as the roster churn might be for Giants fans used to winning championships, this kind of pre-rebuild assessment of what the organization has already in its cupboard is something all clubs cycle through at some point. With that in mind, it’s probably worth realizing how fortunate the fan base was to experience three titles in five years and try to have fun with what comes next.

After Giants dropped to 0-2 on the season last Friday with another disappointing offensive showing, a pair of fans taking a stroll outside Petco Park donned unusual recent purchases — two No. 18 Connor Joe jerseys.

There will be plenty more obscure names like Joe for the San Francisco faithful to rock in the coming years, some of whom will ironically become part of franchise lore.

In fact, someone should probably go check if Brett Pill can still swing it.

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