Aaron Hicks struggled to stay healthy last season. Then, immediately after the Yankees’ season ended, he had Tommy John surgery. For a position player, this takes about six months to recover from, so the Yankees will need to bring in an outfielder to replace him for at least the first half of 2020.
Kevin Pillar makes a perfect candidate to fill that vacancy. Pillar, 30, has been playing in the league for seven years. He has become well known for his tremendous fielding ability and speed. Search the top catches of any year throughout his career, and he is sure to have at least one appearance on each list. Here’s a quick example of the amazing things Pillar can do with his glove:
A career batting average and OPS of .261 and .701, respectively, don’t necessarily jump off the charts. Yet, he has certainly qualified as at least an average offensive player throughout his career, not to mention the fact that this past season was his best at the plate.
Pillar played the first six years of his career in the AL East with the Blue Jays. Outside of Brett Gardner, there is no other free agent outfielder more familiar with the Yankees’ divisional opponents. Over the five years that he has been an everyday starter, he has hit .273 in 1,104 at-bats against AL East pitching.
While it would make a lot of sense to bring back Gardner, Pillar is nearly a younger equivalent of Gardner. Both have been fairly average offensively throughout their careers, and both had the best years of their career in 2019. Each had a career-high in home runs and RBI last season.
If you want to look at it financially, Pillar only made $5.8 million last year while Gardner made $7.5 million. You would think after a good 2019, Pillar may want a raise, but if the Yankees were to sign him they’d essentially be getting a younger Gardner for close to the same amount of money.
Health wise, you can’t find a much healthier player than Pillar, who has averaged 154 games per year since 2015. A player like Pillar would provide so much value to this team outside of just filling in for Hicks temporarily. Having Pillar as a fourth outfielder gives the Yankees optimum defense in either center or left field. If you want to jump ahead, in a heavily anticipated 2020 playoff run, Pillar can provide extreme value off the bench as a pinch hitter, pinch runner or defensive replacement late in games.
There is no going wrong with signing Pillar. He checks off every box for being the Yankees’ fourth outfielder. Consistent health, consistent offense, great defense, relatively cheap and tons of experience against AL East opponents. Sign me up.