After starting out the season at a torrid pace and even taking the leadoff spot for awhile, Kevin Pillar has regressed at the plate, currently sporting his worse offensive stats since becoming a full time starter. With that in mind, how does he fit in the Blue Jays’ long term plans?
It’s been a very up and down year for the Blue Jays in 2017. They began the season with the worst start in franchise history, and then got red hot in May. Kevin Pillar was one of the lone offensive stars in April, hitting .301/.339/.505 for the month, and taking over as the leadoff hitter early in the season.
Alas, his numbers would come back down to earth, and he eventually returned to the bottom third of the order. At the moment, Pillar is slashing .245/.296/.345 with 12 home runs, 25 RBI and 13 SB. In a year chalk full of disappointment, he’s been far from the worst offender, but he hasn’t been great either.
For what it’s worth, according to baseballreference.com, the centre fielder has been worth 1.1 oWAR (offensive), and 1.8 dWAR (defensive), for a total of 2.9 bWAR, putting him among the offensive leaders on the team. Considering he hit .211/.254/.353 combined in June and July, he’s still brought some value to the diamond in the grand scheme of things.
And yet, if you’ve take a regular scan of social media over the last few weeks, the idea of trading the 28 year old is becoming an increasingly common narrative. Fans feel the need for change after a down season and I get that, but I’m not sure why the finger is being pointed in his direction as much as it is. Yes, it’s disappointing that he couldn’t maintain his hot start and become a regular offensive contributor, but we’re still talking about an elite defensive player, making $555,000. In an outfield flanked by Jose Bautista, and Steve Pearce or Ezequiel Carrera, Pillar’s presence has been crucial.
The California native enters his first year of salary arbitration in 2018, and will receive a raise from his near minimum salary from this season. He won’t become terribly expensive yet, but it’s worth considering that he’ll be making a few million more next year. The Blue Jays have control of his contract for three more seasons after this one, before he’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
If I’m trying to dissect the logic behind trading him, it’s because people want to see a change in the outfield, which is understandable. It’s becoming a near certainty that Jose Bautista and the club will part ways after this season, so that opens up the right field job. Steve Pearce has hit well enough that fans should be excited about him slotting in left field next year, even if he’s not the greatest gloveman. He was originally signed with being the primary first baseman in mind, but Justin Smoak‘s emergence has pushed him to the outfield, which could be worse.
Moving Pillar would open up a second spot, but it would also create another need for the Blue Jays. They do have some in-house candidates in their minor league system including: Anthony Alford, Dalton Pompey, and Dwight Smith, though the latter doesn’t have much experience in centre. It’s exciting to dream about what a healthy Pompey might be able to finally do in the majors, or to look at Alford’s tools and to want to slot him in the regular lineup, but are we really ready to bank on them being better than Pillar in 2018?
For all of his offensive struggles, he’s still been worth 1.1 oWAR (2.9 total, baseball reference), so he’s not a complete detriment to the lineup by any means. I’ll concede that I’m frustrated that he hasn’t been able to take a step forward with the bat as well, but that doesn’t mean I think the Blue Jays should be shopping him, just for the sake of change. Change is imminent with Bautista, and I have a feeling we’ll see other tweaks as well.
This is still very much a team that was assembled by Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston, those who preceded the current front office of Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins. The “new guys” will want to make some changes, but trading away someone like Pillar doesn’t make much sense, unless of course the return is favourable.
The front office has stated they intend on competing in 2018, and trading away someone like Pillar, who will finish the season near or above 4.0 bWAR, would have to bring a favourable return, especially when you factor in his small salary. Even if he never becomes a better major league hitter, he still delivers gold glove calibre defence, and has the kind of blue collar attitude that’s fun to watch on the field.
When he gets more expensive, then sure, maybe it’ll make sense to move on. But that time hasn’t come yet, so for my money the Blue Jays would have to be blown away with a trade offer to replace “Superman” up the middle.