The Texas Rangers currently have a void in center field with no natural fits currently on the roster. Can Kevin Pillar be the answer to fill the void?
After trading their main center fielder from the 2019 season, Delino DeShields, to the Cleveland Indians, the Texas Rangers now have a need for an everyday option. As of now, Joey Gallo is the player currently on the roster with the most defensive innings in center for Texas but the long term plan for him is to put him permanently in right. Danny Santana has the most experience there across the course of his career but he was well below average last season in CF posting a -29.8 UZR/150 in 191.2 innings. Beyond them there’s Scott Heineman who made his big league debut but is probably a fourth outfielder at best. Maybe Nick Solak who showed a big time bat in his short stint in the bigs but defensively lacks a home? None of these options inspires a ton of confidence.
So if the club is going to look to outside solutions, which choices should top their list. We’ve already covered a couple of possibilities in Starling Marte and Jackie Bradley Jr., both available via trade. But what if the price is too high on Marte or they aren’t convinced that JBJ’s down year was an anomaly? They’d have to consider the free agent route with the top option available now likely Kevin Pillar.
Pillar was non-tendered by Giants at the beginning of the offseason despite a decent season and now hits the market looking for work. He’s long been one of the most consistent center fielders in baseball and at age 30, he still should have plenty in the tank. Last season was an interesting one for Pillar as he was dealt midseason from the Toronto Blue Jays, the club with which he’d spent his entire career, to the San Francisco Giants, a team embarking on a bit of a rebuild. Across time with both teams, he hit .259 with a .719 OPS. It was a down year offensively for Pillar but he did hit a career high 21 home runs.
His defense has also regressed some which can compound the concerns about his long-term value. Over the course of his career he’s an above average defensive center fielder with a 6.2 UZR/150 in over 6300 innings. However, 2019 was the first year of his career where he posted a negative UZR/150 (-1.6) which can be a troubling sign. This is a bit like the hypothetical Jackie Bradley Jr. trade where Texas would have to be banking on the idea that Pillar’s down year was more an anomaly than a prediction of the future.
The benefit of Pillar over JBJ would be that he likely would cost less per season and he won’t have the cost of a trade package. He’s a year older, but Texas could see about a multi-year deal, unlike with JBJ, that could let him transition into a fourth outfield role in the future. He’s got a good reputation as a fan favorite and a clubhouse guy. If the Rangers feel they can get him back to where he has been, he could be a nice stopgap as some of the club’s top outfield prospects continue to develop.