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TORONTO —The Blue Jays were never going to get a big return for Kevin Pillar, but that was never the point of trading him.
Much like their decision to ship out Kendrys Morales, dealing Pillar to the Giants was designed to create pathways for younger players to get regular at-bats. The Blue Jays need to get clarity on what guys like Billy McKinney, Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford can do going forward. They already knew what Pillar had to offer, and they knew he wasn’t part of the team’s future.
It’s possible none of the team’s younger outfielders are long-term answers. There’s even an argument to be made that it’s probable. However, a big part of the 2019 season for Toronto will be throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Guys like McKinney or Alford could beat all projections and prove themselves to be core pieces going forward. As a 30-year-old defence-first guy set to be a free agent at the end of 2020, that wasn’t going to happen for Pillar.
“The lack of control and given alternatives where we are as an organization in concert with acquisition of another outfielder who’s left-handed and one of the fastest runners in the game, this was a deal we felt made sense to gain control and create opportunities for others,” GM Ross Atkins said of the move.
As a result, the premise of the trade was sound. That doesn’t mean there’s no sense of loss for the Blue Jays. Pillar was their longest-tenured player and a true touchstone for fans on an exceedingly anonymous team. There’s no getting around the fact the Blue Jays had their lowest attendance in close to nine years on Monday and traded their most popular player the following morning.
“We’re not in a popularity contest,” Atkins said. “We’re in a contest to win championships. That takes making tough decisions and oftentimes not popular ones.”
There’s also not much to get excited about in what the Blue Jays got back. Alen Hanson is versatile, but he’s also a 26-year-old with a career line of .238/.269/.384 who couldn’t crack the Giants roster. He’s got some speed, but has never graded particularly well defensively and profiles as a Quad-A utility man.
“Hanson is a versatile still-young infielder who is out of options who will join our major-league teams and create more versatility with his switch-hitting ability and the run tool and being able to plan multiple positions,” Atkins said. “He’s a super utility player or as close to a super utility player as you can find.”
Derek Law was a good reliever as recently as 2016, but since then he’s spent more time in Triple-A than the big leagues. The 28-year-old has respectable velocity (93.7 mph on average) and wields two different breaking pitches, so it’s not difficult to imagine him soaking up some middle relief innings -- but he doesn’t look like an impact arm.
“Law will most likely report to Triple-A,” Atkins said. “Our scouts [liked him], our bullpen coach worked with him, and Derek is someone who has gotten major league hitters out and has swing-and-miss ability.”
Arguably the crown jewel for the Blue Jays is pitching prospect Juan De Paula. The 21-year-old throws mid-90s heat and put up a 1.72 ERA in 52.1 innings at Single-A last season with a healthy 9.5 K/9. De Paula is far from a sure thing because of dubious command, unrefined secondary stuff, and a max-effort delivery. Although he undoubtedly has potential, MLB Pipeline rated him the 19th-best prospect in the Giants’ system.
“He’s a young, exciting, arm with a mid-90s fastball, the weapons to strike guys out, and the attributes to potentially be a starting pitcher,” Atkins said. “Those attributes are hard to acquire.”
So, if fans are disappointed with Pillar’s departure the Blue Jays are going to be hard-pressed if they try any messaging focused on what they got back even though it’s not a shameful return by any means. Law could be a useful piece for a shaky bullpen, De Paula has an interesting ceiling, and Hanson provides depth across the board. There’s just no impressive piece there.
That said, this deal was never about players from outside the organization the Blue Jays could get. Given Pillar’s offensive limitations and minimal team control his trade value was not particularly significant. Trading the veteran outfielder was done to create opportunities for players already in the organization.
In that sense, simply by pulling the trigger on the deal, the Blue Jays got exactly what they needed.
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