Jays From the Couch looks at the situation the Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in with outfielder Kevin Pillar as he approaches his 2nd year of arbitration
Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays’ version of Superman might not be too excited to read this little thought exercise. The idea of potentially losing one of the more popular players on Canada’s team is not one that some people are exactly open to. That said, over the next few months, likely extending to a year or more, we’ll be witnessing several changes from the Blue Jays. Some of those changes mightn’t be too popular as this club looks to take advantage of their current state and retool for a new (hopefully, more sustainable) competitive window.
It is for that reason that there has been back and forth talk on the future of Kevin Pillar. Does he stay, does he go? There are likely just as many people on either side of this argument. Those for keeping him would argue that he has been a defensive savior in the outfield and this team could not survive without him patrolling center. The other side of the argument would tell you that his defense is over rated (they’d point to Fangraphs) and his value on that side of the ball is in decline. Likely, neither side would have an issue saying his offense shows flashes of effectiveness, surrounded by more regular displays of average, at best.
So, the question becomes what to do with Pillar during a period of transition.
Over the next couple of years, we’re going to see young players make their way onto the field at Rogers Centre. If we focus specifically on the outfield, guys like Anthony Alford, Dalton Pompey, Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Dwight Smith Jr. provide depth for a team that is not intent on winning in 2019. There are speedy, defensive minded options for the Blue Jays to entertain. With that comes the added financial flexibility that could be rather enticing. Consider that Pillar is headed for his 2nd year of arbitration and his 2018 salary was $3.25M.
The argument could be made that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to pay for Pillar who doesn’t bring a whole lot more than the above group does. Smith Jr has shown some success in (limited) big league appearances. Anthony Alford makes us drool over the speed he brings to the outfield. Grichuk certainly provides solid enough defense to replace Pillar and should be offensively better than this season, which was weighted down by a horrific start. Based on this, it is not really smart business to pay over $3M for a guy who is redundant, even if he is popular.
Obviously, if the Blue Jays are looking to cut payroll, Pillar is not the first place to start. There are several players making significantly more money than he will in 2019. Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrys Morales, and (assuming he takes the qualifying offer that we assume will be extended) Josh Donaldson would be in line to eclipse any paycheck Pillar takes home. So, while the money argument makes sense, it shouldn’t be the sole reason to jettison Pillar, even if he does see a raise in 2019.
Instead, the Blue Jays would be smart to listen to any offers that may come this trade deadline. Obviously, being hurt at the moment likely takes away any value he may have. But, if a team is looking for a serviceable outfielder who provides late inning defense and is under team control for a couple more years, Pillar could be their guy. He would be more than just a ‘rental’. That said, his injury likely means any trade talks would happen at the end of the season.
At that point, the Blue Jays should once again listen to offers, knowing they have outfield depth, which could look even better after July’s Trade Deadline. If they add more depth and don’t get an offer to their liking, they then will have a decision to make. Do they even tender him a contract? The very real possibility is that the Blue Jays feel that they are deep enough without paying Pillar for 2019. If they don’t find a deal, they could simply let him go.
That might be the most ugly scenario of all, obviously. And, it is not something that is being suggested here. But, think about it for a minute. This club has a lot of money already committed to those older players, who will be next to impossible to move. Saving money would have to come in other ways. Again, they aren’t forced to cut corners right this minute, but over the next couple of years, they will look to scale things back and let their young talent take over. The money saved could then be used to add to the young roster in place.
Could the Blue Jays keep Kevin Pillar? Sure. It’s not like he has zero value. Do they NEED to get rid of him? No. Would it be the popular choice to keep him around when the next year or more is going to be rather lackluster in the win department? Sure, it would. But, if we flip that around, we get an equally strong argument. In a business sense, is Pillar a unique commodity? No. Are there pieces in place that could fill in for him? Yes. Is it worth paying him much more than is necessary to keep him? No. Would the Blue Jays be wise to explore trading him? Yes.
None of this is to suggest that Kevin Pillar hasn’t been a joy to watch. He has. But, at this point in his career, he is approaching the period every player does: is he going to be worth paying to keep around. It will be interesting to see how the Toronto Blue Jays handle this situation. The future of Superman in a Blue Jays uniform could be up in the air. Or, it could be stronger than a locomotive. Time will tell.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.