Where does Kevin Pillar fit among the best early season additions in San Francisco Giants history?
Baseball is a game of constant adjustment. In a sport that is so cyclical, front offices are forced to make move after move in order to maintain a winning roster. That goes double for a team in the midst of a rebuild like this year’s San Francisco Giants.
After an offseason full of small-scale moves made in hopes of incremental roster improvement, the front office has remained busy since Opening Day.
The biggest move to date has been the addition of center fielder Kevin Pillar.
Acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays on April 2 in exchange for Alen Hanson, Derek Law and prospect Juan De Paula, Pillar is best known for his energizing defensive play.
Pillar brings his stellar glovework to a Giants outfield that was one of the worst in the league defensively last season. But defense is not what has quickly endeared him to Giants fans. It’s the work he’s done with the bat.
So far, he’s launched four home runs while driving in 13 runs in 13 games with the team. That offensive production has been a welcome shot in the arm for a team that has struggled to consistently score runs for the past two and a half seasons.
It’s rare that an impact trade is made in the opening months of the season, with most of the wheeling and dealing reserved for the offseason and the trade deadline.
However, this is not the first time the Giants have added an impact piece early in the year.
Pat Burrell immediately comes to mind as another.
With the Giants outfield searching for its identity at the onset of the 2010 season, Burrell was signed as a free agent on May 29—10 days after he was released by the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 33-year-old was hitting just .202/.292/.333 with seven extra-base hits in 96 plate appearances to begin the year while playing in the second season of a two-year, $16 million deal with the Rays.
The Giants rolled the dice on the former 30-homer slugger and he rewarded them with an .872 OPS, 18 home runs and 51 RBI in 96 games to help lead a team of underdogs to a World Series title.
The other notable early season pickup in franchise history came on the pitching side of things when Vida Blue was acquired from the Oakland Athletics on March 15, 1978.
The Giants sent seven players and $300,000 to the A’s to acquire the 28-year-old lefty who had won AL MVP and Cy Young honors in 1971 and been named to three All-Star teams in his nine seasons in Oakland.
It looked like a steep price to pay at the time, but the Giants wound up coming out on top.
Blue went 18-10 with a 2.79 ERA in 258 innings of work to finish third in NL Cy Young voting, and the Giants won 89 games a year after going 75-87.
Meanwhile, none of the seven players sent to Oakland made a noteworthy impact at the MLB level.
So while the early season trade might be rare, it’s not unheard of, and Pillar is not the first player in the storied history of the Giants to make a significant impact after being acquired at the start of the season.