Kevin Pillar had a very solid performance in the Japan All-Star series, which can only work in the favour of both the veteran and the Toronto Blue Jays.
As if the MLB season isn’t long enough for most players (I’m not complaining), many went across the pond to participate in the Japan All-Star series this month including Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The 29 year old played for the MLB All-Stars team in the tournament and turned in a valuable contribution to his team. He ended up finishing with a .333 batting average, and brought his typically strong defence to the table as well.
Admittedly I was a little surprised when I saw that Pillar was participating in the tournament. There’s no doubting that Pillar simply loves the game, so the fact that the wanted to extend his season wasn’t shocking. However, given that he’s been a fixture in the outfield who has averaged over 150 games played the last four years, many other players would have taken the opportunity to rest their body and get ready for the 2019 season.
However, the more I think about it the more I’m glad that he played in the tournament, for his own benefit and maybe even for the Blue Jays’ as well.
The California native has been a valuable contributor in Toronto for the last four seasons as a starter, mostly because of the defensive value that he brings to the table. That said, his role with the team going forward could be up in the air, especially as the Blue Jays transition to a younger core and work through the latest rebuild.
At just 29 years old, Pillar is young enough that he could still factor into the team’s success by the time that the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and others are (hopefully) stars at the highest level. However, with his defensive numbers trending in the wrong direction last season, and his continued struggles at the plate to advance his numbers, it’s also possible that the Blue Jays could move on, maybe even sooner than later.
If the Blue Jays are open to, or even intend to shop him this winter, having him make a strong impression in Japan certainly wouldn’t hurt. While he’s not quite as forgotten in Toronto as he may have been in the past with advancements in technology and scouting, another world stage against elite competition isn’t a bad thing to expose his talents.
I can also see the benefit in a couple of other ways. As Blue Jays fans we’ve watched in frustration as Pillar has started the last few seasons swinging a hot stick at the plate, only to cool off and regress to the norm throughout the year. It’s possible that he wanted to play in this tournament to continue to work on his batting skills, and hopefully he can take away a few positives from the experience.
However, perhaps the best value I can see for Pillar from having played in the tournament is for his name and brand recognition in the future. With all due respect to a player that I like quite a bit, he’s going to have to show some improvement at the plate in the next couple of years in order to stick in the big leagues.
The rosters are trending younger all the time in MLB, and Pillar will turn 30 next season. He’s been very hard on his body throughout his career so far as well, so one could argue he’s got more mileage on his body than a typical 30 year old as well. As a result we’ve watched his defensive statistics start to trend in a negative direction, which mitigates a fair bit of his value. If he can’t stop that regression and/or make significant strides at the plate in the next year or two, he could have a tougher time finding a big league job in a few years.
If that eventually happens, Pillar could take this experience in Japan and use it to his benefit. Many former MLB players have extended their careers overseas once they couldn’t find a big league job, or were looking to make more money than they were being offered in North America. Spending as much time as he did with the fans by signing autographs certainly didn’t hurt his reputation with the Japanese baseball fans, and could prove to be a smart decision in the long run.
So while I was initially a little surprised to see Pillar’s name on the MLB All-Stars roster, the more I think about it, the more I see benefits for everyone involved. And hey, in a worst case the man got to play a few extra weeks of baseball. For a guy who very clearly loves the game like Kevin Pillar, I’m sure that was reward enough.