Kevin Pillar prepared for new situation after odd 2019

Nick Friar
February 15, 2020 - 11:35 am

Kevin Pillar thought he was going to spend his entire MLB career playing for one team. The Toronto Blue Jays.

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He liked the city. He was brought up in the organization. He’d settled down and started to raise a family.

Then, shortly after the 2019 regular season started, Pillar found out he was heading West, and leaving Canada.

“It was extremely unsettling,” he said on Saturday. “I wouldn’t say every season, but as I was there longer in Toronto, I always had this mindset that ‘It won’t be me. It can’t be me. This organization drafted me, developed me. I’ve been in the big leagues for five years. Was beloved in the city of Toronto, across Canada.’ And then you realize that it can happen to you, and it did happen.

“Extremely unsettling. It would’ve been unsettling for anyone. If I was a single guy and just had to pack my own stuff and move across the country, find a new place to live. Go into a clubhouse for the first time, five games into the Major League season, not having spring training with these guys. Not having any friends or people that I know. Unfamiliar coaches that aren’t super familiar with me. And just expected to go out there and play like nothing happened was extremely difficult. ... I don’t think anything in my career on a personal level was as difficult as that, just because I was super open and honest with how much I enjoyed my experience and love for the city of Toronto, felt like that was the only place that I ever wanted to play. And then that was all kind of taken.”

Being with a different organization presented challenges. But there was another element to the abrupt transition.

“The human side of having to move a one-year-old and a wife, two cars that were in Toronto and living in a hotel trying and to find a new place,” Pillar said. “Once you experience that, everything else becomes a little bit easier in this game.”

Still, the game continued to throw adversity Pillar’s way.

He had to change his approach at the plate. There have also been concerns about whether or not he has lost a step defensively.

In the course of all this, Pillar became a free agent when the Giants didn’t tender him. After a season in which he’d posted career-highs in home runs (21) and OPS (.735) to go with his defense. He was then presented with a chance to find a solid situation as a free agent.

Again, didn’t go as planned.

“You think you have this value of yourself,” Pillar said. “After putting in close to six years of work, coming off a career-high in a lot of different things offensively last year. Then you start to get into conversations a little bit more in-depth with teams when you’re a free agent. And you’re reminded of the things that they do value.

“You find out quickly in this game that there’s a handful of teams that are really trying to go out there and compete and are willing to spend some money, and there (are) some other teams that are in rebuild looking to play some of the younger players.”

Even when he was in San Francisco, the new situation was part of what forced Pillar to focus more on his power numbers, in addition to placing an emphasis on, on-base percentage.

“I think, in this game, you adapt or die,” he said. “I think you have to start to value the things that game values. Baseball values power. Baseball values on-base percentage. I was able to improve on an area of my game in power. And, once again, going through the free-agent process, I was reminded of how important it is to get o base, how important OPS and it’s something that is going to be a major focus of mine going into spring training and into the year.”

Now Pillar has the ability to invest more time looking into ways to improve upon what’s being valued in the game, thanks to the Red Sox’ emphasis on analytics — whether it’s defensively or offensively.

Still, playing for a different team in the American League East is odd for Pillar. Not because he didn’t know players on the Red Sox prior to signing, which is something he dealt with last year. Again, he just didn’t see himself ever leaving Toronto.

But everything that’s led to his current situation, in addition to his initial interactions with his new teammates and the fact he signed with the Red Sox on time, has Pillar feeling he’s more equipped to play for another new team.

“It’s a little strange,” he said when asked about playing for a team that he’s faced so much. “I’m more prepared for a situation like this, being traded four days into the year, going to a team all the way across the United States in San Francisco. … That transition went as smooth as possible. I made friends on the team and felt like one of the guys on the team fairly quick.

“Playing against these guys, competing against these guys, we have a lot of familiarity with one another, and I feel like there will be an easy transition. Just in the day and a half, I’ve been here, the guys have been very welcoming. Seems like a very close-knit group of guys. And I am excited to get this thing started and go out and do what I love to do.”

Related: Red Sox have discussed moving Jackie Bradley Jr. to right with Kevin Pillar in center