The San Francisco Giants make a big upgrade to their defense on Tuesday, acquiring center fielder Kevin Pillar from the Toronto Blue Jays
Trade rumors have swirled around the veterans on the Toronto Blue Jays roster for months, and just five games into the 2019 season those rumors became reality.
The Blue Jays (2-3) traded center fielder Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday, bringing to an end Pillar’s seven-year career in Toronto. In exchange, the Blue Jays are receiving minor league relievers Juan De Paula and Derek Law, and utility man Alen Hanson. De Paula, the Giants’ 19th-ranked prospect, had a 1.72 ERA at Single-A in 2018, while Hanson hit .252 in 110 games with the big league club. Hanson also has the ability to play all over the field, appearing in more than 10 games at four different positions for the Giants last year.
The 30-year-old Pillar doesn’t bring much offense to the Giants lineup, but he’s been one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball the last few years. Since 2015, he ranks fifth among outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved, and was second in that category three seasons ago. At the plate, however, Pillar’s .282 on-base percentage in 2018 ranked last among 56 qualified outfielders.
Pillar will likely take over for Steven Duggar at center in the Giants outfielder. That allows Duggar to move to a corner outfield spot, replacing either Connor Joe in left or the platoon of Gerardo Parra and Michael Reed in right. Parra and Reed have combined for just two hits in 20 at-bats so far this year, while Joe is still hitless in five games. Pillar and Duggar are also a significant upgrade in defense. It’s still early in the season, but Duggar ranks eighth in DRS while Reed is 121st.
The Giants, coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time in a decade, hired Farhan Zaidi as president of baseball operations from the rival Los Angeles Dodgers in November. Zaidi, however, has done little to improve the roster in the meantime, his only big free agent signings being Drew Pomeranz and Parra.
The Giants were in the market to sign Bryce Harper but missed out, leaving them perilously thin in the outfield if they have any hope of competing with the Dodgers and Colorado Rockies in the NL West. Pillar might not be the star that Harper is, but he’s better than what they already have.
For the Blue Jays, the departure of Pillar is another step by the front office to get rid of the players who led the club to back-to-back ALCS appearances in 2015-16 and transition instead to a younger roster. Of the 22 players who appeared for the Blue Jays in their last postseason series in 2016, only five now remain on the roster just three seasons later.
The Blue Jays now turn to Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney and Randal Grichuk to make up their outfield. Second baseman Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can also move there once top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is called up, while another prospect currently in the minors, Anthony Alford, can also contribute.
The Blue Jays begin their new era without fan favorite Pillar in center on Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles, while Pillar will get his first look at the Giants-Dodgers rivalry at Dodger Stadium when he makes his debut for his new team.