In MLBTR’s recent projection of arbitration salaries for the 2020 season, Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar was penciled in to receive a $9.7MM salary award in his third and final trip through arbitration this offseason.
A cursory glance at Pillar’s stats would render this to be a reasonable projection–and an eminently manageable sum for Farhan Zaidi’s front office in San Francisco. After all, Pillar hit 21 home runs in 2019, after an early April trade from Toronto deposited the veteran Pillar into the Giants’ everyday lineup. Over 161 games, the outfielder would come to lead the team not just in homers, but also in RBIs, stolen bases, and runs scored, all while playing respectable defense in center and right field.
Then again, the operative word there was “cursory”–a deeper look at Pillar’s numbers indicate his effective value may not match his arbitrational value.
While Pillar did accrue some nice counting stats in 2019, his 2.8% walk rate in 2019 resulted in a ghastly .287 OBP. Weighted metrics suggest he was a squarely sub-average offensive performer overall (85 wRC+ in 645 plate appearances); then again, Pillar’s never been known as a plus performer at the plate, as his 86 career wRC+ would suggest. Though the California product does still offer excess value on the bases (6.0 Fangraphs BSR recording in 2019), it’s not as if the club can place a premium on his defense: his 0.3 UZR and -3 DRS marks last year were all-too-typical for an outfielder on the wrong side of the 30-year age marker.
Giving due credit to intangible considerations like veteran leadership and Pillar’s general reputation as a good teammate, Zaidi’s FO is ultimately looking at a slightly sub-par-hitting outfielder who, given a well-rounded game, slates as a roughly average regular. Just how much such a player is worth is, as always, a question of what the club’s recourse would be if they ultimately decided to go in another direction.
Looking to the free agent market, the Giants are unlikely to find an appealing host of options. Starling Marte figures to have his $11.5MM club option exercised, Brett Gardner doesn’t project as much of an upgrade from a performance or value standpoint, and, after that, the club will likely find a charming menagerie of former full-time players like Jon Jay, Billy Hamilton, and Juan Lagares. Not exactly a group to build a season-ticket sales pitch around.
On the trade front, Zaidi could enter the Mookie Betts sweepstakes–except for the fact that such a one-year move would hinge on the belief that the Giants are ready to contend in 2020, which would be hard to support after a 77-85 season. If the World Series-bound Nationals are intent on making marginal moves, it’s conceivable that a player like Michael A. Taylor could be pried away, but Taylor might be best suited for his current part-time, defense-and-speed role until he’s proven otherwise. Aside from that, “average” center fielders are not as plentiful as one might assume.
Then again, there is a third option, courtesy of Kerry Crowley of The Mercury News–San Francisco could try to hammer out an extension with a slightly lower AAV (link). Crowley suggests offering a one-year deal with a club option for 2021 totaling a potential $13MM-$15MM in value. This option, admittedly, does make some sense as a half-measure approach. The Giants, arguably the prestige org of the new millennium, could continue to run out a serviceable center fielder while it continues to try to identify the building blocks for its next championship team. No faded former starters, no overmatched prospects forced into full-time duty, no crippling long-term commitment.
So, on the balance, which route should Zaidi take this offseason in regard to the veteran Pillar? (Poll link for app users.)