The Mets have their center fielder. Kevin Pillar has signed a one-year deal with the New York Mets for 2021.
Albert Almora was acquired last week. These two additions follow George Springer signing with the Toronto Blue Jays. Jackie Bradley Jr’s multi-year, high-AAV demands have clearly proved too much for the Mets. Pillar has years of experience manning center, but this is hardly an exciting signing for a team with World Series ambitions.
Pillar retains a reputation as a glove-first guy. This has been inaccurate for a few seasons. He ranked in the 11th percentile in outs above average in 2020. It was not much prettier in 2019. Pillar might be a better defender in center than Brandon Nimmo, but it is far from guaranteed. It’s several seasons since he was an elite glove in center.
Despite an uptick in walk rate last season, the offense is no more promising. Pillar ranked in the 41st percentile in expected on-base percentage last season, which was the best mark of his career. He’s never been even league average in barrel rate or exit velocity. For his career, he’s got a chase rate of almost 40%. Pillar has one season, the truncated 2020 campaign, with a wRC+ above 94. He was between 82 and 89 from 2016 to 2019.
Mets offseason decisions
The Mets have made some good offseason moves. Pillar does not fall into that category, particularly if he has been signed as an everyday centerfielder. His defensive numbers over the last few seasons has been ugly in center, forcing both San Francisco and Colorado to use him on the corners.
Bradley was the obvious move after missing out on Springer. There are bound to be other centerfielders on the trade market if his price was too high. Pillar might hit for decent contact, and he might still be an above average runner, but this is an underwhelming signing for a Mets front office which has got so much right.
Pillar neither boosts the offense nor fixes the defense in center. This is a peculiar signing for a team with the Mets’ spending power.