After always robbing Sox, Pillar to return favor

Signed to one-year deal, veteran adds to Boston's outfield depth that has lingering questions

February 15th, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As took his first -- and somewhat surprising -- foray into free agency, he never considered the Red Sox to be a fit.

Pillar has been an everyday player for the last five years, and at the time, the Sox had in left field, in center and in right.

Even after Betts was traded to the Dodgers -- twice, as Pillar quipped -- he still didn’t think much of the Sox because of Bradley’s hold on center field. But the idea suddenly grew on him when Boston reached out to him a few days ago.

And here Pillar is now, ready to tackle the opportunity of playing for the team he played against so often in Toronto.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity for me. I think any time you get to put a Boston Red Sox uniform on is something to not take lightly,” Pillar said. “It’s a historic organization, an organization that is always trying to win. I feel like I’m best suited for a team that is trying to win. My style of play is conducive for going out there and doing whatever it takes to try to get a win that day. And I’m excited for an opportunity to do that here.”

Pillar, who signed a one-year, $4.25 million deal with the Sox, didn’t expect to be eligible for free agency for the first time until after the 2020 season. But after a solid year for the Giants, Pillar was non-tendered -- and humbled at the same time.

“The type of season I had last year, you know, on the surface, I was very confident about it to the point where getting non-tendered came as a little bit of a shock,” Pillar said. “Obviously, San Francisco is going in a different direction. They have an abundance of young outfielders they want to give opportunities to.”

After two months of Pillar not being able to find a new home, the opportunity presented itself in Boston earlier this week due to the trade of Betts and some health uncertainty for , who might miss Opening Day.

When Boston’s roster is at full strength, you can still expect Pillar to start against virtually every left-handed pitcher. But the platoon role will be new for a fierce competitor who played 161 games last year and hasn’t played fewer than 142 games the last five seasons.

“The reality is, there’s three other really talented outfielders on this team. There will be a role for me at some point, and there'll be an adjustment period,” Pillar said. “But my mindset, the way I prepare, won’t change. If or when that time comes, I will handle it as professionally as I can and find ways to stay ready.”

Due to Pillar’s competitive nature, he doesn’t expect to be given anything. But he will still go full throttle trying to earn as many at-bats as he can.

“My mindset is just to go out there and be myself, prepare like I’m an everyday player and go out there and perform and earn playing time,” Pillar said.

It is evident listening to Pillar speak that he carries a chip on his shoulder that fuels him as a player. He has heard about the metrics that say his defense isn’t what it used to be, and he looks forward to proving that he can still be elite in the outfield.

Pillar also believes that the Red Sox can help him improve with their dearth of analytical information.

“Some believe, some will say that I’ve taken a step back defensively. I don’t believe that’s the case,” he said. “I think it’s matter of making some minor adjustments, whether it’s positioning, getting a little bit more information, which is something I’m excited about joining this organization.”

The passion that Pillar has for his job would seem to make him a perfect fit for Boston, a city that appreciates the grinders who never stop hustling.

“I’m not just saying this because I’m sitting here now, but Fenway was always my favorite place to go play when I was a member of the Blue Jays,” Pillar said. “Rain or shine, warm or cold -- fans are out there. Winning record, losing record, fans are extremely loyal. I also understand they have expectations for their teams. They have expectations for their players. But, yeah, it’s a one-of-a-kind atmosphere and I’m excited to call that my home.”