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The deadline for teams to tender a contract to arbitration-eligible players is Dec. 2. Here’s the case for the San Francisco Giants keeping Kevin Pillar.
Center fielder Kevin Pillar led the San Francisco Giants in a number of meaningful offensive categories in 2019, including runs scored, RBI, home runs, and hits.
Of course, that could speak to the lack of overall offensive output from the rest of the lineup, but the point still stands.
Pillar is set to go through arbitration for his third and final time, and with a projected salary of $9.7 million, Giants team president Farhan Zaid will have to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons in keeping Pillar.
On the surface, it seems like an easy decision.
The long-time Toronto Blue Jays outfielder swatted 21 home runs and drove in 88 runs while producing a .259/.287/432 line. Additionally, Pillar was the Willie Mac Award recipient in 2019 for his inspirational play and leadership.
However, a dig beneath the hood reveals some red flags.
The 30-year-old is no longer the defensive wizard he used to be, which is concerning for a glove-first position player. According to the defensive metrics, Pillar posted a -5 DRS and a -1.6 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in 2019. These numbers suggest that his work with the glove was below average.
That may be hard to believe considering he is one of the better defensive center fielders the Giants have had over the past decade. Plus, he makes plays like this:
Outfield range, thy name is Kevin Pillar.
5:51 AM – Jul 8, 2019
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In addition to the apparent defensive downturn, Pillar also does not have the type of offensive profile that Zaidi seeks. Across 645 plate appearances, he posted a meager 2.8 percent walk rate on his way to a .287 on-base percentage.
Zaidi generally seeks out players with good strike zone awareness and plate discipline, but these are not Pillar’s strengths. Rather, Pillar employs an aggressive, contact-oriented approach.
With all of that in mind, Pillar does not offer strong overall value.
In 2019, the 30-year-old was worth 1.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) while wearing the Orange and Black. Relative to his salary, there’s not much value to be had if he produces at that level again next season.
All of these red flags may compel Zaidi to seek out alternative options to fill center field next season. And, it seems he is willing to sacrifice production for development, as he told Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area the following:
“And again, I think the juncture that we’re in as an organization, we’re gonna have to view every baseball decision we make as a little bit of a tradeoff between production and development, and the present and the future,”
As Zaidi points out, the Giants will again be an organization in transition in 2020. That means he will want to use next season as another year for younger players to grow and develop by playing every day. Retaining Pillar may impede that goal.
With that being said, it’s entirely possible that the Giants will deem Pillar’s projected salary too costly, and opt instead to non-tender him.
Is that the right move?
The argument can certainly be made that he simply does not offer enough overall value. However, the Giants can do worse and have done much worse in recent seasons at the center field position.
The table below shows the Giants combined WAR by the primary center fielders each year since 2015, according to Baseball Reference:
San Francisco Giants Center Fielders bWAR, 2015-2019
Year Player(s) Combined bWAR
2015 Angel Pagan -2.0
2016 Denard Span 1.3
2017 Denard Span/Gorkys Hernandez -1.9
2018 Austin Jackson/Steven Duggar/Gorkys Hernandez 0.5
2019 Kevin Pillar/Steven Duggar 1.3
That list is tough on the eyes, and it is necessary to point out that Zaidi took over as the Giants team president following the 2018 season. In his first year, he was able to effectively find the Giants’ most valuable center field going back to 2015. It should also be noted that Pillar was not even on the Opening Day roster.
It is possible that Zaidi can find better overall value through trades or on the free-agent market. However, center field is a difficult position to fill, especially given the expansive range that one needs to show at Oracle Park.
The Giants have plenty of holes to fill on their roster, including adding rotation and bullpen depth, finding a corner outfield bat, and adding a utility infielder. Is it a wise move to add to that list by creating another hole if they choose to part ways with Pillar?
On a different note, the San Francisco Giants are still a business.
It is no secret that attendance and ticket sales have been declining in recent years, and ownership will likely want that trend to slow down in 2020.
Do fans go to the game to see Kevin Pillar play center field? Probably not.
However, he proved to be a positive contributor to the on-field product in 2019. Maintaining a decent product in 2020 should still be one of their goals, and keeping Pillar can help in achieving that end.