How Pillar made an unusual return days after release

March 24th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- thought he had pretty much seen and experienced everything in his 13 seasons of playing professional baseball.

“I was wrong,” said the 35-year-old outfielder when talking to the media prior to Sunday’s Cactus League finale, a 7-3 loss for the White Sox against the Rockies.

Pillar was a non-roster addition to big league Spring Training for the White Sox, adding his veteran imprint to the roster and in the clubhouse over the past five weeks. He looked to be a pretty sure bet to be a part of Chicago’s Opening Day roster, but then, on Friday, he was released.

And then on Sunday, he was back on a Major League deal. With southpaw Tarik Skubal starting Thursday for the Tigers, the right-handed-hitting Pillar could go from being without a job to the starting lineup in the course of one week.

“It’s a possibility,” said White Sox manager Pedro Grifol on Pillar starting Opening Day.

With Pillar being one of the six Article XX(B) free agents on the White Sox roster, having at least six years of service time, finishing the 2023 season on a Major League roster or the injured list and having signed a Minor League deal more than 10 days before Opening Day, he had the chance to opt out this past Friday if he was not added to the 40-man roster. Neither side made it clear if that opt out was enacted. But general manager Chris Getz told his former teammate they weren’t ready to commit to him being on the team.

“What I did is encouraged him to see what else is out there and left the door open to come back, but I also let him know that we’ve got a lot of things up in the air,” Getz said. “Couldn’t guarantee anything and obviously a couple of days passed and we worked something out. There was an opportunity for him and we were able to get to the finish line.”

“I just committed so much over this offseason, these last five weeks of Spring Training, felt like I had a lot to offer,” Pillar said. “Just not knowing if I was going to get the chance to come back here or sign somewhere else, it was definitely tough. When Getzy called me up again and we were able to work something out, I was equally as excited as I was relieved.”

If Pillar made the White Sox off the original deal, he was set to earn $3 million. The new deal for Pillar reportedly came in for a little less. The confusion over the last 48 hours became the most trying thing for Pillar, eventually coming to an understanding with Getz, who is not just his boss but a former teammate and friend.

“In hindsight, I thought he was being very vague with me on the reasons why I wasn’t going to make the team,” Pillar said. “I was able to talk to some people within the industry, agents, union and stuff, and understand what Getzy was facing, things he couldn’t say, reasons he couldn’t give me. There’s a lot of things I’ve been through in this game, and that was not one of them.

“Definitely more informed on the rules and things that can be said and can’t be said. Didn’t necessarily think it was going to be an opportunity to maybe come back, but more time had passed and he was able to give me some more information of what happened.”

Robbie Grossman agreed to a Minor League contract with the White Sox on Friday, along with an invite to big league camp, but the switch-hitting outfielder was at home previously and will need some time to get at-bats on the Minor League side. When Grossman is ready, it could be another challenge to Pillar’s roster status. It’s something Pillar understands as part of his White Sox return.

“I felt like we were building something here in camp and I was a part of it and excited to get an opportunity for however long that lasts,” Pillar said. “My job is to go out there and perform to the best of my ability like I’ve done over the last nine years of my career. And just see it as another opportunity to go out there and prove my worth.

“There’s no animosity, no hard feelings. Business is business. At the end of the day, that’s what it is. Business decisions have to be made. Right, wrong or indifferent. But they were made and I’m back and I’m excited to be a part of it.”