Should The Toronto Blue Jays Trade Kevin Pillar?
In Spring Training of 2015, Kevin Pillar was entering Dunedin looking to battle for a spot on the Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day roster. The Blue Jays had acquired Michael Saunders to play left field, obviously Jose Bautista is in right, but Pillar and Mississauga native Dalton Pompey battled for the starting center field job, which Pompey went into spring as the favourite to win the job.
As Spring Training got underway, the Blue Jays were dealt a big blow early on in the spring when Saunders stumbled on a sprinkler head in the Dunedin outfield and tore his ACL in his left knee. That opened the door for Pillar to take over and crack the Blue Jays roster. He still battled a bit with Ezequiel Carrera for a spot but after an oblique injury to Pillar, he came back and ran away with the left field job.
It’s a very good thing for the Blue Jays that Pillar made the Opening Day roster because since day 1, Pillar was making highlight reel catch after highlight reel catch. He also contributed offensively out of what was usually the 8th spot in the batting order. Pillar started relatively hot and cooled down mightily hitting only .181 and a brutal .237 OBP. In June, Pillar was scorching hot hitting .365 with a .380 OBP. July, Pillar cooled down to a good .283 average and .323 OBP. In August, Pillar cooled down even more to a .240 and .283 OBP.
Down the stretch and into the post-season, Pillar got hot at the right time hitting .333 and had a .368 OBP. In October, Pillar had 45 at bats for a .286 batting average and .333 OBP. Kevin Pillar had himself a nice little post-season for the Blue Jays and was one of the better bats in October.
Why did we go through and highlight Pillar’s month-by-month stats? To prove that Pillar is able to make in-season adjustments to what pitchers are throwing his way. Sure, Kevin Pillar doesn’t get on base at a very good clip, that hurts him quite a bit. He doesn’t walk much at all and he strikes out a fair bit, but he did get much better at the plate as the season went along. In the first half, Pillar struck out 15.8% of the time compared to just 10.6% of the time. He only raised his OBP slightly and didn’t walk any better.
Kevin Pillar is an interesting bat. He hits for contact with some extra base power and double digit home run power. 50.6% of the balls Pillar hit were medium speed contact, good for some extra base power. He also can steal bases, stealing 25 in 2015. Pillar has demonstrated an ability to improve himself as a hitter, but not so much so to the point where he will walk more, which means his OBP suffers despite the good batting average. For a bottom of the order bat, I would take Pillar’s bat batting 8th. He hits for a decent average, steals you bases, can potentially lengthen the order power wise, and is near 100 in the wRC+ department. If Pillar was to improve his eye and walk more, he could be among the best all around center fielders in the game.
The question I want to know is, is Pillar someone the Blue Jays potentially dangle in a trade? Pillar was worth 4.3 wins in 2015, a total largely influenced by his outstanding defense but still, that was good for the 14th best outfielder in all of baseball. Isolate just center fielders and Pillar was the leagues 7th most valuable center fielder. Is Pillar ever going to have value as high as he did in 2015, again? Plus, the Blue Jays have Dalton Pompey waiting in the wings.
If the Blue Jays are to move Kevin Pillar this off-season, it would have to be for starting pitching. The most recent rumor has the Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians engaging in talks. The Blue Jays have a surplus in the outfield with Pillar, Pompey, Bautista, Ben Revere, and Michael Saunders. They also have Roemon Fields and Anthony Alford rising quickly in the minor leagues. The ultimate decision to move Pillar would be whether the Blue Jays believe Pillar can improve offensively, more so in the OBP category. If he does, he becomes a top center fielder. But he could also regress in 2016 with the bat. The one constant will be the glove.
If the Blue Jays are able to acquire a front end rotation starter like a Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland and Pillar is the center piece going to Cleveland, it is something the Blue Jays would be foolish to pass up. It also depends on how other teams view Dalton Pompey. Pompey is still young and full of potential, but he doesn’t have very much value right now and likely couldn’t fish you much on the trade market.
Kevin Pillar has the potential to be the Blue Jays center fielder for years to come. Can he keep it going offensively? He has proven he can adjust to pitching at every level he has been too. Was 2015 an anomaly? Perhaps. Perhaps not. These are the tough decisions a front office has to make. It would be a risk but for a Carrasco, you definitely move Pillar. I say the Blue Jays should dangle Pillar in trade talks. If they move him for a starter, fantastic. If they don’t and he returns in 2016, that’s fantastic too! Regardless, there is a strong case to trade Pillar and an equally strong case to keep him.
I am leaning more towards perhaps moving him in a trade. What about you?