Blue Jays send Pillar to Giants for trio of players

Deal paves way for youth to see more playing time

April 2nd, 2019

TORONTO -- Kevin Pillar had been preparing for months to be traded away from the Blue Jays, but when the moment finally arrived Tuesday morning he still didn't know how to handle it.

The longest-tenured Blue Jay on the roster, one of the last remaining pieces from a team that made back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Series from 2015-16, is gone. He was traded to San Francisco for three players -- infielder Alen Hanson, reliever Derek Law and prospect Juan De Paula in Toronto's second surprise deal in less than a week.

On one hand, Pillar seemed relieved that he was no longer stuck in limbo; that he wouldn't have to spend the season dealing with nonstop trade speculation. On the other, Pillar's entire professional career came crashing down around him, because the city where he became a fan favorite is no longer home. He's going to need time to come to grips with that.

"It’s all I’ve ever known," Pillar said of the Blue Jays, before breaking down and pausing to collect himself. "You spend a lot of time here. You spend more time here than you do in your home in the offseason. I spend more time with people here than I do with my own family. So that part of it is hard."

Pillar wasn't the only one overcome with emotion on Tuesday afternoon. Teammate, and close personal friend, Justin Smoak seemed to be taking the news particularly hard. The normally stoic first baseman started out strong during a scrum with local reporters, but broke into tears when he was asked what Pillar meant to the organization over the past several years.

It's easy to see why the Pillar trade was tough to take for some fans, and the few players on the 25-man roster who had been exposed to him for more than this season. He was the type of player who sacrificed his body on a nightly basis. Whether it was crashing into the wall, or sprawling out head first to make a highlight-reel grab, he earned the nickname Superman for a reason.

There were always questions about the bat and his lack of plate discipline, but there were never any questions about his desire and work ethic. This is someone who, despite all of the bumps of bruises -- at times even fractured bones -- appeared in at least 142 games each of the last four years. He was never the star of the postseason teams, but he was certainly the spark plug.

"He was great, man. Great teammate. Superman. Whatever you want. ...," Smoak said before trailing off, breaking into tears and trying to compose himself. "Sorry. ... I'm getting emotional. He's a guy that played hurt."

Toronto general manager Ross Atkins was peppered with questions about what this deal means for the present and the future. The easy answer is that moving Pillar creates more playing time for prospect Anthony Alford, ranked Toronto's No. 11 prospect by MLB Pipeline, who was promoted from Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday, along with Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk and Billy McKinney.

Pillar knew for quite some time that he wasn't going to be a part of the future. He watched Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin get traded away during the offseason, and saw Marco Estrada walk via free agency. The writing was on the wall, and by the time Kendrys Morales was dealt on the eve of Opening Day there was a sense of inevitability to it all.

The only real surprise was the timing of it all, but when the dust finally settles, that might be the thing that Pillar comes to appreciate the most.

"I got a chance to not play yesterday, and sit back in the dugout and kind of look out with the type of attendance we had, and just kind of really process the amount of change that’s just happened in my short time here; the seven years I’ve been here," Pillar said. "It was tough to see, but ultimately I want what’s best for this organization.

"If they feel like moving on and giving other guys opportunities to play, then that’s what needs to be done. This is always going to be near and dear to my heart, and this is a place I’ll always call home but I’m really excited to get to L.A. and meet my new teammates and have a chance to play in Dodger Stadium, a place I’ve been wanting to play in for a long time, and grew up going to a ton of games. I get an opportunity to see my family a lot more."