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Making sense of Giants’ non-tender day and the Kevin Pillar decision

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

In case another reminder needed to be hammered to each fan’s door, the era of loyalty in San Francisco is over.

Kevin Pillar brought his best self to the Giants, an early-season trade addition who may have had the best year of his career. In total, he played 161 games, constantly put his body on the line — he would typically skip batting practice, so conscious of being as fresh as possible in a game in which that’s nearly impossible — and earned the love of his teammates and fans, a love that was mutual. He led the team in home runs, batting average, steals, RBIs, just about every cumulative offensive statistic, and became immortalized in the organization in winning the Willie Mac Award.

At the non-tender deadline on Monday, the Giants informed him he would not be extended a contract for next season, as he was earmarked for a little less than $10 million in his final season of arbitration. As the season wound down, he expressed a desire to return. He won’t be.

WTF,” wondered Smash Mouth.

Farhan Zaidi was less emotional.

“We want to continue to create opportunities for our younger players,” the Giants president of baseball operations told reporters. “We were in a situation where Kevin was going to be in his last year of arbitration with us, and we’re trying to take a longer-term outlook with our roster.”

Zaidi said this was not a financial decision, but one that was best for the organization. Mike Yastrzemski likely will see some time in center field, and San Francisco will be in the hunt for a corner outfielder with pop, with sluggers such as Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and Yasiel Puig on the market. Pillar, as popular as he was, is not an analytics darling, does not get on base enough and the defense that’s become his calling card is on the decline according to just about every metric.

Instead of one more season of Pillar, who could have served as a bridge if Heliot Ramos is ready for 2021, the Giants will get longer looks at younger guys without the resumes like Steven Duggar, Jaylin Davis, Austin Slater and Alex Dickerson (who agreed to a one-year deal Monday). If it has its advantages for the long run — perhaps Duggar can take steps and establish himself as a keeper — it reflects poorly on the Giants’ expectations for 2020. No, Pillar was not a star, but he was the best option they had. It also cannot be great for the culture to allow a beloved locker-room piece, who had a solid season, go for nothing. It is a difficult move to make if you, say, want to convince a Madison Bumgarner you’re trying to win now.

As eyebrow-raising as Pillar’s pink slip was, it might not have been the most surprising non-tender of the Giants’ day. They claimed lefty starter Tyler Anderson from Colorado last month, a 29-year-old whose 2019 was wiped out by knee surgery, but who had been an effective pitcher in a difficult environment previously. On a team that can only pencil in two starting pitchers to its rotation next season, Anderson would have been a serious contender for a spot upon recovering. MLB Trade Rumors pegged him to be in line for $2.625 million in arbitration, a number the Giants must have felt is too high. They undoubtedly would want him around on a lesser, perhaps minor league deal, but it would be surprising if another team didn’t take a flier.

The other non-tenders were righty reliever Rico Garcia and Joey Rickard, another guy the Giants likely would want back on a minor league deal, while they retained Dickerson, Donovan Solano and Wandy Peralta. The Giants’ roster now has four open spots, more room for Zaidi & Co. to maneuver with the Rule 5 Draft on tap for next week and a flood of new free agents hitting the market after Monday’s deadline. Cesar Hernandez, a switch-hitting infielder from Gabe Kapler’s Phillies, is now available. As is Travis Shaw, whom the Brewers cut loose, a lefty who hit 32 home runs two seasons ago and could move around the Giants’ infield.

The churn continues. Zaidi will try to find not just the best fits for the team but for the budget. Letting Pillar go sends yet another message that the days of paying veterans for work already done is finished. And another message that they won’t be sidetracked from trying to build a sustainable winner by trying to build a 2020 winner.


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