Blue Jays deal veteran outfielder Kevin Pillar to San Francisco Giants
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, April 2, 2019 12:21PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 2, 2019 2:57PM EDT
TORONTO -- Emotions ran high Tuesday as the business of baseball resulted in a popular piece of the Blue Jays locker room being removed.
Toronto continued its radical roster makeover, sending veteran outfielder Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants for three players. In a separate move, the Jays obtained speedy outfielder Socrates Brito from San Diego. Later Tuesday the team signed outfielder Randal Grichuk to a US$52-million five-year contract extension.
In return for the 30-year-old Pillar, the Giants gave up right-handed reliever Derek Law, utility infielder Alen Hanson and right-handed pitching prospect Juan De Paula.
Jays first baseman Justin Smoak, a burly six foot four and 220 pounds, had a hard time controlling his emotions when asked about seeing his close friend depart.
"He was great, man. Good teammate. Superman. Whatever you want," said Smoak referencing Pillar's nickname for his ability to climb high and make highlight-reel catches.
"He's a guy you want on your team," added Smoak, his voice breaking. "Sorry I'm getting emotional."
Then he paused to let the wave of emotion pass.
"He's a guy who played hurt. And a guy we're definitely going to miss."
Pillar, a California native who was the longest-tenured Blue Jay, has been in the Toronto organization since being drafted in the 32nd round in 2011 -- which netted him a US$1,000 bonus. He went on to play 695 games for the Jays, hitting .260 with 55 home runs and 231 runs batted in.
Toronto GM Ross Atkins paid tribute to Pillar's work ethic and determination. But he said the "difficult decision" to deal the veteran makes room for others to step up.
"This was a deal that we felt made sense to gain (financial) control and create opportunities for others," he said.
Opportunity to test former college football player Anthony Alford in centre field, to give Brito a chance to show he belongs in the majors, and perhaps create more space for some talented infield prospects to spread their wings in the outfield. It could also give Jays prospect Jonathan Davis, a 2013 draft pick, a chance to showcase his skills.
Alford, recalled from triple-A Buffalo, gets the first audition.
Pillar, who is making US$5.8 million this season, is eligible for free agency after the 2020 season.
He joins Russell Martin, Marco Estrada, Troy Tulowitzki, Kendrys Morales, Josh Donaldson, Steve Pearce, J.A. Happ and Yangervis Solarte, all of whom have left in a Toronto teardown that started last season.
"We're not in a popularity contest," said Atkins. "We're in a contest to win championships and that takes making tough decisions and often times not popular ones."
While Atkins said he believes the team has created sufficient room to manoeuvre with its recent deals, he did say he has started talking to his players about whether they want to be kept in the know regarding possible moves.
And he continues to see the Blue Jays glass as half-full.
"There's good stories across the game every year. We still feel like we could be one," he said, while noting more than a few things would have to go right for that to happen.
"Part of having good stories and opportunities is creating them ... We're creating opportunities for other players."
Manager Charlie Montoyo also kept the faith.
"We've got an exciting team, I'm telling you," he said. "I'm not going to lie, I'm going to miss Kevin Pillar. What a great guy, what a good player. But now somebody else gets a chance."
Pillar did not start Monday's game against Baltimore but delivered a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in a ninth-inning Toronto rally that fell just short in a 6-5 loss.
Atkins said the deal was consummated late Monday. He acknowledged nodding off, only to be awoken by a vibrating cellphone providing confirmation of the trade from Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. Pillar got the word Tuesday morning and was on a plane later in the day.
But not before thanking the Toronto fans for their support.
"I got called up as a 24-year-old kid that had no intentions of getting to the big leagues ... I'm leaving here as a 30-year-old man with a wife and a kid. Just a lifetime of memories.
"I'm not Superman ... This city and this country kind of allowed me to almost become kind of a mythical kind of superhuman baseball player and I can't thank them enough for that."
Pillar hit .252 last season with 40 doubles, 15 home runs, and 18 walks over 142 games. He was a three-time Gold Glove Award finalist (2015, 2016, 2017) and a 2015 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year for centre field.
"This one hurts," tweeted Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, now the most senior Jay.
This one hurts. Been my locker-mate since 2014. Going to be crazy not having you there. Love you bro. Hope this move brings you joy and happiness for you and your family! @KPILLAR4 pic.twitter.com/SxenMky7RD— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) April 2, 2019
Pillar's time in Toronto was not always smooth. In May 2017, the Jays suspended him for two games for a homophobic slur directed at an Atlanta Braves reliever. But Pillar stood up and took his lumps, apologizing to fans, Major League Baseball and the LGBTQ community.
Grichuk's new deal covers the 2019 to 2023 seasons. The 27-year-old was slated to make $5 million this year. He was eligible to become a free agent after the 2020 season
De Paula, 21, is a minor-leaguer ranked 19th among Giants' 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline. He spent last year in Class-A. The six-foot-three 165-pounder had a 1.72 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 27 walks over 52.1 innings of work last year.
A native of the Dominican Republic, he will be sent to Single-A ball.
"He's a young exciting arm with a mid-90s fastball," said Atkins.
The 26-year-old Hanson, hit .252 with 17 doubles, five triples, and eight home runs across 110 games for the Giants last season. The switch-hitting utility infielder, who is out of options, will join the Jays.
The 28-year-old Law had a 7.43 ERA across 13.1 innings with 12 strikeouts and eight walks for the Giants in 2018. He's likely headed to Buffalo.
The Blue Jays got Brito from San Diego in exchange for outfielder Rodrigo Orozco. The Padres had claimed Brito off waivers on March 27.
The 26-year-old Brito hit .175 with one home run and three RBIs across 24 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018. The native of the Dominican Republic has a career .202 batting average in 82 games.
The Jays see talent in Brito, who can play all three outfield positions, and hope he can show it.
"He could potentially come in and give as much production as someone like Kevin Pillar but there's not as much certainty that he will," said Atkins.
Brito was added to the major-league roster with outfielder Dalton Pompey shifted to the 60-day injured list with a concussion.