Pirates could be perfect landing spot for Giants cast-off Kevin Pillar
By Jeff Young
The rumor mill has been quiet for Kevin Pillar since the San Francisco Giants decided to part ways with the veteran outfielder.
Despite a lack of activity to this point, the market for former San Francisco Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar may finally begin to take shape in the days to come.
Pittsburgh Pirates star Starling Marte was widely regarded as the best center field option on the offseason market and he was recently traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for two prospects.
That could mean other teams in need of center field help are now ready to turn their attention to Pillar. When he initially became a free agent, there was reportedly widespread interest.
On the surface, the long-time Toronto Blue Jays outfielder had a nice 2019 season as he posted a .264 batting average with 61 extra-base hits, 82 runs scored, and 87 RBI across 645 plate appearances. His 21 home runs and 87 RBI led the Giants, which is not an insignificant accomplishment given that he began the season with Toronto.
However, a dig beneath the hood revealed some troubling trends.
For starters, Pillar generated a 2.8 percent walk rate paired with a .287 on-base percentage. Both of those figures are significant red flags for a player that receives substantial playing time.
In addition to that, Pillar is no longer the defensive wizard he was when he was with the Blue Jays. In 2019, he was worth -3 DRS and -0.6 UZR while seeing a good chunk of time in center field along with some occasional work in right field as well. That represented the fourth consecutive season in which his DRS figure has declined.
Despite the unfavorable defensive metrics, Pillar continues to pass the eye test:
In total, Pillar was worth 1.0 WAR in 2019. The Giants decision to non-tender him, rather than pay a projected $9.7 million in salary for 2020, was due in part to his limited overall value.
With that being said, Pillar can still be a serviceable player for a number of teams. And, an opening was just created when the Pirates traded away their incumbent center fielder in Marte. So could Pittsburgh be a match for Pillar?
According to Adam Berry of MLB.com, the Pirates plan to deploy Bryan Reynolds in left field while utilizing Guillermo Heredia as a fourth outfielder. Meanwhile, Gregory Polanco will again occupy right field, despite a down 2019 season in which he produced a .726 OPS (90 OPS+).
That leaves a hole in the center of the field that Pillar could fill capably. The Giants decision to non-tender the outfielder is an indication of how baseball views his skill set, but it also means that he could likely be reeled in on a one-year deal without a substantial financial commitment.
That is the type of contract the Pirates should be interested in as they build their 2020 roster while scaling back payroll.
Based on modern analytics, Pillar does not do anything exceptionally well. However, there is value in adding a player like Pillar who was able to drive in 87 runs despite being part of an anemic Giants offense in 2019.
The Pirates have a need, and Pillar is still looking for a home. The outfielder remains a fit for a number of teams, and the Pirates owe it to the fans to field a competent team. Now it is up to team owner Bob Nutting to crack open his check book for a manageable sum.