Despite rumours that the Blue Jays might non-tender Kevin Pillar, it looks he’ll return in 2019. He may not be the future, but for right now it was the right choice.
Because the Blue Jays are in the beginning stages of a rebuild, we’ve watched a number of veterans leave for other teams over the last couple of seasons. That trend will continue in 2019, either through more trades this offseason or next summer, or the eventual expiration of a few contracts.
While it’s nice to have a few veterans around to help bridge the gap between generations of the team, it’s also tempting to want to see the process speed up and to put youngsters all over the field. For example, there are some folks who would like to see Rowdy Tellez as the everyday first baseman next year, despite the fact that Justin Smoak remains one of the team’s best hitters, and under contract for a reasonable eight million in 2019.
Another example of this type of scenario would be Kevin Pillar, the Blue Jays’ popular centre fielder. “Superman” has made a reputation as a blue collar player who is willing to sacrifice his body time and time again for the sake of a game-changing grab. He’s also shown flashes of offensive potential, but unfortunately hasn’t been able to put things together for an extended stretch.
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For a while Pillar was a significant bargain on a minimum contract, especially because of the defensive WAR numbers he was putting up. He was worth 4.9 bWAR in 2015, and followed it up with marks of 3.5 in 2016, 2.8 in 2017, and 2.5 last year. Obviously that number is trending in the wrong direction, but he still proved himself useful last year.
Now that his numbers regressed a little bit and he’s estimated to earn 5.3 million in arbitration for next season, there are some fans and writers that believe the Blue Jays should move on from him. I would agree with that statement as long as the front office could trade him for something of value, especially if his regression continues, but I don’t agree with just cutting him loose. Which is why the idea of non-tendering him never made any sense to me, even if the Blue Jays can’t find an interested taker in the trade market.
The reality is, the Blue Jays don’t have a ton of outfielders ready to take over the big league reigns. Pillar will be joined by a fleet that will include some combination of Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, and maybe Dwight Smith Jr. There are other options in the minors like Jonathan Davis, Anthony Alford, Dalton Pompey (if he’s kept around), or even recent convert Cavan Biggio. However, in the immediate term I don’t see the rush in pushing Pillar out the door.
It’s not as if the Blue Jays are strapped for cash and can’t afford to pay the soon to be 30 year old north of five million. He’s a hard worker who plays the game the right way, and again, there isn’t really anyone pushing him out of the way in centre. Grichuk could handle duties out there if he were asked, but otherwise the Blue Jays would be looking to Alford or Davis, neither of whom have played themselves into the opportunity just yet. Even if they did, Pillar could be a useful bench piece, or potential trade bait later in the year for a team with outfield injuries.
For those that argue that he’s probably not part of the long term future of this franchise, I would agree with that statement. However, the future isn’t going to arrive overnight in Toronto, and having a few veterans around to show the young guys the ropes isn’t a bad thing at all.
Until someone comes along and demands an everyday role in the outfield, I don’t see the Blue Jays getting rid of Pillar just yet. It could happen later this summer, or more likely next offseason when he’s eligible for arbitration again, but for the time being I think Ross Atkins made the right choice in keeping him around. For a little more than five million and in an uncertain outfield picture, he’s worth hanging on to, at least for now.