It’s highly unlikely that Kevin Pillar — acquired in a trade by the San Francisco Giants late Monday in a deal consumated Tuesday — will get 500 plate appearances with San Francisco.
In president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi’s continual procession of incremental moves, it’s entirely possible that the 30-year old outfielder, may get flipped for a package either before or at the trade deadline, but for now, he’s on a plane from Toronto to Los Angeles, to a stadium he grew up attending as a youngster in nearby West Hills.
“It’s definitely an emotional time for me and my family, but definitely excited,” Pillar said. “I think if there was, location-wise, I think, aside from maybe going to L.A. or Arizona where I live, being on the West Coast is a pretty good opportunity to be closer to my family.”
In a move that’s been in the works throughout the offseason, the Giants added a veteran right-handed bat to the outfield mix, along with someone who can help spell and teach young center fielder Steven Duggar, coming off an offseason shoulder surgery, and give the team depth in the corners.
“There’s a whole lot [he can teach], probably could sit here for an hour or two and have a conversation about it,” Duggar said. “Obviously, he’s one of the best center fielders that I’ve watched, growing up, who’s still in the league. Some of the plays he makes, the highlight reels that you see, it’s like, ‘How in the world did he even get close to the ball?’ It’ll be interesting to bounce ideas off of him and pick his brain. We’ve got a chance to be a special group.”
Duggar, who was slated to get a day off on Tuesday, instead started, and will stay in center on Wednesday, with Pillar in right and Gerardo Parra in left.
“That’s a pretty good outfield, don’t ya think?” said manager Bruce Bochy.
“I think it’ll be fun to see those three guys out there,” Zaidi said.
One of the biggest reasons to acquire Pillar and Parra this offseason, for Zaidi, was the ability to have a strong defensive outfield to take advantage of the spaciousness of Oracle Park and the team’s flyball pitchers. Parra has 101 outfield assists and Pillar has 63 defensive runs saved over the course of his seven-year Major League career. There was “consistent interest” in Pillar for the entire offseason, though the trade opportunity didn’t present itself until Monday night.
“He’s a pretty natural fit,” Zaidi said. “We’re trying to put together an outfield of guys that complement each other, and guys who Boch’ can mix and match, play matchups, and make sure guys aren’t getting over-exposed, especially with guys like Steven, who we’ve been careful to ramp up from the injury he’s coming back from.”
The Giants have notably had 13 different Opening Day starters in left field since the retirement of Barry Bonds, and as Andrew Slater failed to impress this spring, Chris Shaw was sent down and Mac Williamson was designated for assignment five days ago (the same day as Hanson), Zaidi has continued his search for a corner outfield solution.
While in the past, Zaidi stated he’d sacrifice defense for on-base attributes, he did the opposite with the Pillar move, adding a plus defender at the expense of perhaps some on-base prowess.
“We don’t want to be overly dogmatic,” Zaidi said.
Pillar’s career wins-above-replacement is 14.6, with a WAR of at least 2.5 each of the last four seasons.
“Somehow, WAR has become a polarizing stat, but in the context of this, I think it’s a helpful data point,” Zaidi said. “Pillar has been a two-win player year in and year out over the course of his career, and it’s an illustration that you can get there different ways. You can get there with defense, you can get there with power, you can get there with on-base, you can get there with good baserunning. At the end of the day, you want guys who are going to positively impact the game.”
The Giants had been looking for right-handed outfield bats all offseason, and were linked to Pilar and the Blue Jays before spring training started. Once Toronto saw its clutch of young outfielders perform, they became more willing to deal.
Pillar — a lifetime .260/.297/.396 hitter — has hit .279 against lefties over his career (.253 vs. righties) with a .745 OPS against southpaws (compared to .673 against righties), though those splits flipped in 2018, when he hit .259 against righties and .235 against lefties. That’s not a concern for Zaidi, who spoke with Pillar on Tuesday morning.
“With his approach at the plate, he’s an aggressive player, and I think he likes the ball coming into him,” Zaidi said. “I see him being an asset against left-handers, for sure, and he’s been an everydya player. The fact that he’s not a platoon guy, he’s had productive seasons against right-handers and left-handers.”
“He makes it easier to give Duggar a rest against certain left-handers,” Bochy said. “[Pillar] will play some in center, and help out in the corners.”
Pillar was acquired for infielder Alen Hanson, along with right-handed pitchers Derek Law and Juan De Paula. No cash changed hands, as San Francisco is loathe to sell young talent. Outfielder Michael Reed was designated for assignment.
Law, 28, was, at one time, a top prospect in the organization, but was removed from the Giants’ 40-man roster during the offseason after posting a 7.43 ERA over seven big league appearances in 2018.
Hanson was a key reserve in 2018, playing in 110 games and getting 310 plate appearances, hitting a career-best .252 with a 90 OPS+. De Paula was ranked the franchise’s No. 19 prospect by MLB Pipeline, owns a 2.47 career ERA in the minor leagues, but has not pitched above Single-A. The Giants acquired the 21-year old from the Yankees last summer as part of the Andrew McCutchen trade.
Michael Reed — acquired from the Cleveland Indians at the end of spring training — went just 0-for-8 with the Giants, and was designated for assignment to make room for Pillar. Zaidi took the blame for putting Reed in a tough situation, and hoped that the organization would be able to hold onto him through the waiver process. Had Pillar been acquired earlier, Zaidi said, the Giants may not have gotten the chance to bring Reed into the organization.
“It’s tough and it’s unfair to him to say this was a judgement on his eight at-bats,” Zaidi said. “I take responsibility for putting him in a tough spot coming into camp so late, and having to familiarize himself with an organization, being out there on Opening Day. There were a lot of moving parts and a lot of pressure on him. I don’t think what we saw was indicative of his ability.”
Given his seven-year tenure on Toronto — who drafted Pillar in the 32nd round of the 2011 Major League Draft out of Cal State Dominguez Hills — Pillar, who was the longest-tenured Blue Jay, held back tears as he addressed media before leaving Toronto for Los Angeles, where he should land later Tuesday evening.
“You spend a lot of time here, you spend more time here than you do in your home in the offseason, and I spend more time with people here than I do with my own family, so that part of it’s hard,” Pillar said. He will return to Toronto for a two-game series on April 22-23.
Zaidi, for one, was quite impressed with Pillar’s offseason comments reflecting his desire to stay a Blue Jay for life.
“I have a lot of respect for players have that mentality,” Zaidi said.
The emotion is a feature, not a bug, according to former teammate Yangervis Solarte, who played with Pillar in Toronto last season.
“With this group, amazing — that’s a good guy to bring here and play hard and compete in this league; that’s perfect,” said Solarte, who is lockering next to Pillar (who will wear No. 1) on the road. “That guy, he always plays hard … He’s got a passion for playing. That’s the guy we need in this thing. Oh, my God, the jumps, catching the ball, he looks like Superman. This guy is amazing, unbelievable. This guy, you can see the passion when he plays. He puts the passion out there for the fans.”