Mariners Trade Target: Kevin Pillar


The Seattle Mariners have seemingly been connected to every available outfielder this week. Brett Gardner, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Gerardo Parra have all been linked to the M’s. All of those players offer value to the Mariners in 2016, but I believe Kevin Pillar may represent the best fit for Seattle.

I want to be clear in saying that the Toronto Blue Jays have not been shopping their center fielder so far this offseason. However, if the Blue Jays were interested in moving Pillar, he would be a very intriguing option for Seattle.

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Jose Bautista is entrenched as Toronto’s starting right fielder. Michael Saunders, Ben Revere, Dalton Pompey and Pillar are all expected to battle for the remaining two spots. The Blue Jays are likely to trade at least one of these players, and Pillar would net the biggest return. Much like what Boston is doing with Bradley, Mark Shapiro could opt to sell high on Pillar this winter.

Originally a 32nd round selection by the Blue Jays in 2011, Pillar has far exceeded exceptions during his career. He raced to the big leagues, debuting with Toronto during the 2013 season. Pillar struggled in his rookie campaign, posting a .206 batting average with 3 home runs and 13 RBI through 36 games.

The West Hills, CA product played better in limited opportunities during 2014. Pillar hit .267 with 2 home runs and 7 RBI across 52 games. He registered a .295 on base percentage and slugged .397 through 122 plate appearances.

Jun 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) makes a diving catch on a line drive by Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre (not pictured) in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Injuries forced Pillar into the Blue Jays’ lineup this season, and the 26-year-old ran with the opportunity. Pillar hit .278 with 31 doubles, 2 triples, 12 home runs and 56 RBI across 159 games played. His .314 on base percentage and .399 slugging percentage were both very impressive. Pillar had just 1 stolen base through his first 89 games in the big leagues, but he exploded for 25 steals this season. He also did a nice job in the playoffs, hitting .286 with 5 doubles, 1 home run and 6 RBI in 11 games.

Pillar took significant strides with the bat this season, but his work with the leather was even more impressive. The speedy center fielder registered a .293 range factor per 9 innings in 2015, which was good for fourth amongst outfielders. Pillar’s .996 fielding percentage was the third best mark in baseball, and he led all outfielders with 440 putouts. He also has a very accurate throwing arm, demonstrated by his 10 outfield assists this past season.

2015 was the definition of a breakout season for Kevin Pillar. Overall, he registered 5.2 wins above replacement. Pillar’s athleticism and on base skills allowed him to rack up 2.8 oWAR. He was also credited with 2.8 dWAR, which was the second best tally in the league. Pillar has five-tool ability, and All-Star potential. He also has plenty of team control left. Pillar is arbitration eligible in 2018, and will reach free agency following the 2020 season.

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Baseball Reference is predicting another solid season for Pillar in 2016. They think he will hit .271 with 27 doubles, 12 home runs, 50 RBI and 14 stolen bases across 526 plate appearances. The mathematicians at FanGraphs are equally as optimistic about Pillar next year. They predict he will hit .279 with 31 doubles, 11 home runs, 62 RBI and 17 steals over the course of 138 games.

As you might have already guessed, Pillar will not be a bargain buy for the Mariners. Toronto is hunting for pitching this offseason, and that is something Seattle has plenty of. David Price in unlikely to return to the Blue Jays in 2016, and they could use a lefty to replace him in their starting rotation. James Paxton has been very effective when healthy, and he is someone Seattle might be willing to part with. The Ladner, BC native might be enough to get the deal done, and I would be willing to throw in a mid-tier prospect if necessary.

Next: Should the Seattle Mariners Trade for Jackie Bradley Jr?

The Mariners are desperately searching for someone capable of playing center field and set the table for the heart of their order. I believe Kevin Pillar would be the ideal choice. He was a force hitting out of the bottom third of the Jays’ vaunted lineup. However, his speed and contact rate suggest Pillar would excel out of the number two hole with Seattle. The M’s offense would be much more explosive with Pillar hitting in front of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

It might not be easy to pry Pillar away from the Blue Jays, but it would be worth it. Make the call Jerry!