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Kevin Pillar hit home runs. He made great plays in the outfield. He inspired enough teammates to win an election for the Willie Mac Award.
None of that bought him another year with the Giants, who made Pillar a free agent by declining to tender him a contract ahead of a Monday afternoon deadline, a decision that will not go over well with the fans.
Pillar was projected to earn about $10 million in 2020 in his final year of arbitration before becoming eligible for free agency after the season. He earned $5.8 million in 2019. Although salary versus production almost certainly was a factor, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi insisted in an interview that the decision to let the 30-year-old go was not budgetary.
“We have full ownership support to invest in the major-league roster,” Zaidi said. “This is not a financial decision, and I expect us to be active in ways to improve in the trade and free-agent markets. We have the financial flexibility on those fronts.”
Zaidi called the Pillar nontender a “baseball decision” rooted in the differences between the inventory of Giants outfielders this winter compared with last. It also follows Zaidi’s dictum that any expensive moves help the Giants beyond 2020.
“We feel like our outfield picture has improved a lot with some of the guys who have emerged,” Zaidi said.
He cited Mike Yastrzemski, who could shift to center field, as can Jaylin Davis if he makes the team. Zaidi also mentioned Austin Slater, Steven Duggar and Alex Dickerson, who signed a one-year, $925,000 deal Monday to avoid arbitration, and added that he will pursue other outfielders this winter. Zaidi has said he wants to find a power-hitting corner outfielder.
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The implication: A $10 million salary was too high if Pillar is going to get less playing time in 2020.
“We want to continue to create opportunities for our younger players,” Zaidi said. “We were in a situation where Kevin was going to be in his last year of arbitration with us, and we’re trying to take a longer-term outlook with our roster.”
Besides Dickerson, the Giants signed one-year deals with left-hander Wandy Peralta ($805,000) and infielder Donovan Solano ($1.375 million). They did not tender contracts to pitchers Rico Garcia and Tyler Anderson and outfielder Joey Rickard. Those three also become free agents.
Pillar led the Giants in several offensive categories upon his acquisition April 2 and played in 156 games for San Francisco.
He became the first Giants hitter in four seasons to surpass 20 homers (later joined by Evan Longoria and Yastrzemski) and drove in 86 runs on a team that scored just 678, third fewest in the majors.
His .293 on-base percentage, 1.0 WAR and poor defensive metrics might not have matched up with his projected salary on paper, but Giants players and fans understood his value in a different way.
Pillar played both center and right field for manager Bruce Bochy, and teammates voted him as the Willie Mac Award winner in just his first season in their clubhouse.
Pillar might not get $10 million in a free-agent deal with another club (or the Giants, who still might negotiate with him), but he could wind up on a contending team before hitting free agency, or even sign a multiyear deal.
The Giants likely sought to trade Pillar, but other teams might have been scared off by the arbitration estimate as well.
The Giants acquired Dickerson in a trade with the Padres on June 10. The 29-year-old started his Giants career with a bang. He had a homer and six RBIs in his first game, at Arizona, and hit .357 with four doubles, a triple and four homers in his first 14 games before his all-too-frequent history of injuries returned.
He ended the season healthy and said via text Monday that he is “feeling great. Everything is all healed up.”