MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago Cubs

It’s Time for the Blue Jays to Trade Kevin Pillar

I’ve written my fair share of articles on Kevin Pillar over the years, most of them praising him and looking optimistically at his future with the Blue Jays. However, this one is not going to be like the others. This one is going to advocate for the Blue Jays to trade Kevin Pillar.

Everybody knows why Kevin Pillar is valuable; there are no ambiguities about where his talents lie. The 29-year-old is good because he gets to balls in the outfield that a lot of other plays can’t get to, thus making life a lot easier on the Blue Jays’ pitching staff. But it’s an oversimplification to just assume that reputation holds as true now as it did when Pillar started to burst onto the scene and into walls in 2015. In fact, the evidence suggests that Pillar has had quite a dramatic downturn in his defensive skills recently. Going by the Statcast numbers, Pillar completely changed in 2017, costing the Blue Jays two outs relative to the average fielder, whereas he earned them an extra 15 outs in 2016.

That difference can be seen most dramatically in what Statcast refers to as four star and five star plays, the hardest outfielders can make. In 2016, Pillar converted 64 and 22 percent of his opportunities for making these plays, respectively. That accounts for 16 four star plays made, and nine five star plays. In 2017, those percentages shrunk to 26.7% and 0.0%, equaling raw totals of 4 and 0 plays made respectively. That is a big swing in plays that Pillar once made, that he didn’t convert on in 2017.

This is important because Pillar is who he is at the plate. He won’t be changing anytime soon. He has talked about being a different hitter many times in the past, but in the end, once the sample size increases and small discrepancies are weeded out, Pillar is still the player who is overzealous at the plate and is very liberal with what he swings at. Because of that, the value he provides offensively is virtually non-existent, if not detrimental in the aggregate. Therefore, his entire value lies with his fielding. And if his fielding has shrunk as the statistics would seem to say (If Statcast data wasn’t enough for you, FRAA, DRS, and UZR all agree with the sentiment as well), then we have already seen Pillar’s prime, and it would be wise to get off the train now.

If the Blue Jays decide to make Pillar available, they are in a unique situation this winter because there are not many centre field options available on the open market, yet there are a few suitors. Lorenzo Cain is the only free agent who is definitively better than Pillar at this time, as Jarrod Dyson has faded and is now recovering from surgery, while Carlos Gomez probably should be in a corner outfield spot when play starts in 2018. As for teams that could use a centerfielder, the lists includes the Rangers, Royals, Brewers, Mets, Giats, and Mariners, though I’m sure that list would expand if the Blue Jays were looking to trade Pillar.

Of course, trading Pillar doesn’t make much sense if the Blue Jays don’t have a replacement for him. Making one hole to fill another isn’t how you build a good baseball team. Luckily, the Blue Jays have accrued outfield depth in recent years and would be able to replace Pillar if traded. The list of possible names include Anthony Alford, Teoscar Hernandez, and even Dalton Pompey, if you somehow believe there is something left there.

Alford had a very good 2017 campaign when he wasn’t dealing with the injury he suffered in his brief call up to Toronto and although the team was dealing with a roster situation when they originally brought him up, they wouldn’t have made that move and started his clock without the belief that he could play in the majors. Scouts rave about his defense and when the bar to clear offensively is Kevin Pillar, it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t be able to at least mimic that performance.

For Hernandez, I think most would agree that his offensive talent exceeds that of Pillar’s. The question for him would be if his defense translates to centre field or if he is better suited for a corner spot. More than likely the answer is that he does belong in left or right field, but again, if the bar to exceed is the value Pillar puts up, I think it would be reasonable to assume that the offensive gain would be bigger than the defensive loss.

The reasoning behind all of this is that the Blue Jays must get something in return for trading Pillar. Discussing what they may get is a fool’s errand, because unless you’re in the front office, you don’t know how teams value him. However, no matter what, the Blue Jays would save money from ridding themselves of Pillar and deciding to play Alford or Hernandez. Both of those players are scheduled to make the league minimum in 2018, while Pillar is projected for a salary of $4.0 million according to MLBTR. Those $3.5 million in savings could go along way to helping this club build when it seems like the team currently only has about $25 million to spend this off-season.

Pillar has had a fantastic career in Toronto, no doubt. He has overachieved since being drafted, but his value is correlated directly to his success in the outfield. If that success is slowly coming to an end as he ages, he all of a sudden doesn’t become the best use of $4 million when players exist within the Blue Jays system that could provide similar value for an eighth of the cost. If that means Pillar should be traded, it’s been nice while it lasted. But in the end, the team has to make the smart move to build the best possible roster from player one through 25.

Lead Photo: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Jays Journal recently published a piece on the idea of trading Pillar as well. This article was started prior to the Jays Journal article being released.

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27 comments on “It’s Time for the Blue Jays to Trade Kevin Pillar”

Alan

Amen and Amen Gideon! You summarized all the arguments rightly. I’ve been gritting my teeth for years, he’s such an offensive liability. Ten cent head at the plate, talented a hitter as he could be if he let himself. One contention – they don’t need much of anything for him, just unload him and open a spot for an offensive upgrade. Jays must upgrade by some subtraction, if they are to compete.

Gideon Turk

Oh yeah I totally agree that they shouldn’t be looking to get a huge package for him. Every other team probably sees the same faults in him that we do. But saving the money and using it towards improving somewhere else, to go along with whatever a potential return is, definitely seems like a win to me.

AL Kell

You’re an idiot with that content…one that seats and watch pretending you know the game like half of the other STAT-IDIOTS the write this article, that have no life but to critic… they were the guys at school that couldn’t play any sport and if they did they were the lousy ones that no one wants in the team…Kevin Pilar knows he’s not a super gifted athlete so he had to work twice harder than most to make up for it and in a team sport when others see that it creates respect making even the gifteted ones work harder as well suddenly they ALL play their hearts out… I get it it’s a Business but to get a player who play all out like that to collect his paycheque don’t come about everyday… yes he could be a good trade bate for others, but not for the above mentioned reason these STAT-IDIOTS WROTE IN THIS ARTICLE…here’s a little note for the STAT-IDIOTS: Pete Rose was the 1965 Rookie ofvthe year as a second baseman and later became a 3rd baseman, on his own words he said “ I know I’m not the best player on this team so I got to world twice as hard so they can count on me every day” … he was tge first player flying head first to make it safe at any closed play and also RUN to first base on an intational walk or on any ball 4 call, he played with his heart-out! That’s why he was call “Charlie-Hastle” and here we call Kevin Pilar “ Superman” and every player in Baseball knows he plays his heart out in every play… so get a STAT on that YOU STAT-IDIOTS!

Gideon Turk

Thanks for the comment, Al! One question, do you like stats? I can’t seem to tell from what you wrote here.

Calvin Poier

You same to know all about baseball, but I bet if a ball was hit to you in the out field you would not know which way to run and you fall flat on your ass. give a ball player that plays with his heart , not like most that play only for the cash, like a sports reporter that things he knows it all.

Gideon Turk

You are correct. I am very bad at playing baseball. But lucky for me, there is zero correlation between playing ability and writing ability. I’ll take somebody who actually produces rather than a player with “heart” everyday of the week. But thanks for weighing in!

AL Kell

It’s amazing how little you actually know about the game and what it takes to actually play it at that high octane level EVERY DAY… habilitation to write you said? You type, view, correct and rewrite until you see it fitYOU ARE AN “ AFTER THE FACT GUY” the EVER PRESENT KNOW IT ALL “ MONDAY MORNIG QUATER BACK” ….how can you produce PROPERLY if your Heart isn’t in it YOU IDIOT!

j_blauv
hojam23

Question for you. How much do you know about the game and how much do you know about what it actually takes to play at that “high octane level” everyday? My guess? You don’t and never have. And playing house league at the age of 12 doesnt count moron. The dude who wrote the article wrote it from a stats perspective. He’s suggesting that we’ve seen the best of Pillar so why not trade him now before we declines even further. It’s an “opinion”. If you disagree, that’s fair. But say why. And don’t say its because he has heart. That’s BS. There’s a 1000 guys that play professional baseball that play with “heart”. I couldn’t imagine that your only argument here is that Pillar should stay because, well, he has a ton of heart. That would make you the idiot.

AL Kell

Please… with your HABILITY to write, please correct all my above spelling mistakes on my previous comments… I sincerely hope that you are not taking your self serious writing about the Beautiful Game Baseball… PLEASE say it isn’t so!

JB

I’ve been saying this for 2 years now… Also, we cannot let JD walk for nothing- & keeping him ’til the trade deadline is risky because we might still be in it…. I think we have to trade him too, unfortunately

Gideon Turk

Hmm, not sure about that. I think if you trade him now you are giving up on the season completely, but trading Pillar signals the opposite to me. It means you’re looking to win, and are reallocating your finances to do it.

Patrick Cashman

I think it would be silly to consider trading Pillar. To suggest that he is in decline is not realistic. The Jays should not be going into a rebuild and should have enough money for 2019 to sign a pitcher if one of the rotation pitchers falters in 2018. In no way should the Jays trade Pillar. Pillar deserves a raise just like how Kiermeyer did last year, but maybe not at the same rate. Signing Pillar to a four year deal at a good salary boosts his value in a later trade. An Alford, Pillar Hernandez outfield in 2019 sounds really good and we have a solid infield and a bullpen that is drastically improved from April 2017.

Gideon Turk

Thanks for the comment, Patrick!

I do agree about not going into a rebuild. This move seems more of a retooling than a rebuilding move to me.

I’m not sure why guaranteeing money to a player who plays as dangerously as Pillar would increase his trade value. He is still under control for a few more seasons, I don’t think locking him into a contract and adding another year makes him more valuable.

Although Pillar seems young, he will be playing next season at 29, and with his style of play, and the fact that he plays the most demanding position on the field, expecting him to decline seems pretty reasonable to me. You don’t have to look very hard to find that centrefielders have a few great years but level off pretty quickly as they slow down.

Geo

If the right deal comes along, trading Pillar makes a lot of sense not because he’s in decline, but because Centrefielders are one of the few areas that the Jays have other good options. I would love to see a revamped outfield with a new offensive talent in one of the corners, plus Hernandez and Alford. There’s some risk with that, but the current outfield in aggregate is simply not very good.

Gideon Turk

Totally agree. I think we know what we are getting with Pillar at this point. With Alford and Hernandez, your outfield has a lot of upside that it doesn’t really have at the moment.

Dillon

Wow… These comments are just… Wow.

Given the volatility of defensive metrics, I think it might be a bit much to declare that Pillar has declined so much that he can’t provide positive defensive value any more. I mean I’m sure he’s lost a step as he’s aged (and crashed into everything and everyone in sight), but I’d expect him to bounce back some next year.

That said, I totally agree that the Jays should explore trading him. His bat is a pool noodle and he plays one of the few positions where the Jays actually have some depth. They’ve got some holes to fill, and that extra payroll could come in very handy.

Can’t believe the responses to this entirely reasonable idea.

Gideon Turk

Thanks for the comment, Dillon!

I agree with you in that it is way too early to say he won’t provide positive defensive value anymore. I don’t think I said that in the article, and if I did, it was definitely not my intent. My point was that his defensive value has decreased to the point where it doesn’t make up for his lacklustre bat anymore. However, the defensive value is still present, which makes replacing him with somebody with similar defensive output and a higher offensive upside like Alford or Hernandez an attractive option IMO.

Gideon Turk

Marcus Stroman’s favourite person in the whole world, obviously.

Mark

Pro Tip: If you’re going to rant and rave about the lack of intelligence of a guy that writes for a living, perhaps learn to string together a coherent sentence.

I guess I’ll go back to watching replays of “Charlie Hastle” now. He’s the guy who used to really bug everybody right?

bluerage

I would only trade Pillar if there was a team that over valued him. Trading him to free up resources when there is no immediate replacement seems short sited.
If the Jays sign/trade for a better CF then he still has value in LF. He would immediately become a top 5 defensive LF and likely continue to be for many years even in decline. With his modest salary it makes more sense to keep him and have him bat at the bottom of the order until you have a clear upgrade.

Gideon Turk

I agree to a certain extent, but I don’t think you need to have an upgrade, rather just a replacement you believe can match his production, or rather his production minus what you believe you’ll gain with the $3.5M extra to spend.

Paul C

Hi Gideon just wanted to say I don`t agree with all your articles and having fun disagreements make sports talk fun but enjoy reading them keep up great work and know the Jays should not trade Pillar.

Gideon Turk

Thanks, Paul! The discussion with people like you is why I write!

Pillar is fine but…yeah, considering the decent CF depth the Jays have now, I would trade him to get something the team needs, such as a middle infielder who’s an upgrade on Goins.

As for the drunken illiterates in this comment section…thanks for talking up Pillar’s trade value!

Gideon Turk

Actually a pretty great idea. I wonder if there is a fit with a team looking for outfield help that has a utility guy like Atkins said they are looking for.

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