Colorado Rockies: Was the Kevin Pillar trade really worth it?

Sep 1, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) bats in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 1, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Kevin Pillar (11) bats in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

With the news that Kevin Pillar has signed a deal with the New York Mets, the 32-year-old outfielder’s short-lived time (and any thought of a potential reunion) with the Colorado Rockies has officially come to a halt.

Let’s take a look back at the Kevin Pillar trade between the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies and examine if it was worth the price.

In all, Pillar was with the Rockies for 24 games after being acquired in a trade from the Red Sox on August 31, 2020. In return for Pillar, the Rockies would eventually send pitching prospect Jacob Wallace, the club’s third-round pick in 2019 and one of Colorado’s top 20 prospects, to Boston. In his one professional season (pitching at Class-A Boise), the right-handed reliever posted a 1.29 ERA and converted 12 of 13 save opportunities, striking out 29 in 21 innings at Low-A Boise while opposing batters hit just .129 against him.

For a club that is known in the industry for closely guarding its prospects, the dealing of Wallace for Pillar was the second big trade-deadline move made by the Rockies in a two-day span, following a deal for reliever Mychal Givens from Baltimore. After starting the season 11-3, Colorado stood at 17-18 on the day it traded for Pillar and was hanging on to the eighth and final playoff spot by a half-game.

The deals for Givens and Pillar, however, were not enough to keep the reeling Rockies in the postseason picture. Colorado would start September with a historic 23-5 loss to San Francisco at Coors Field on its way to a 9-16 mark in the month, finishing at 26-34 and well out of the playoff race.

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While having a smaller sample size (97 plate appearances), Pillar finished 2020 with Colorado’s third-highest OPS+ (102, one of only three players to finish above 100) and second-highest slugging percentage (.451). His .308/.351/.451 slash line was certainly respectable as he settled into the role of starting center fielder.

There was also what Pillar perceived to bring to the Rockies in the clubhouse and dugout.

"“He’s an aggressive, hard-nosed player. He’s a leader. I know it’s used a lot, but he’s a gamer,” Rockies manager Bud Black said after Pillar’s acquisition.“It’s more about the player and the winning type of game he brings every day. He plays hard. He’ll dive. He’ll crash into walls. He’ll try to steal a base. He’ll break up two. His style is his style. For me, from the other side watching him over the years, it’s a winning type of player.”"

While defense was highly discussed when it came to Pillar’s play, his defensive metrics with the Rockies weren’t as impressive. He finished with a Defensive Runs Saved measurement of -4 and was -2 in Outs Above Average (in comparison, Raimel Tapia and Charlie Blackmon posted a 0 OAA in 2020).

He did, however, start his short-lived Rockies career in style with an athletic catch against the wall.

With all of that to ponder, there was plenty of buzz earlier in the offseason that the Rockies and Pillar might be reunited for the 2021 season, especially after the club non-tendered David Dahl in early December. However, seeing the price that Pillar earned in his deal with the Mets and knowing that the Rockies have, once again, gone through an offseason without a Major League free agent signing, it’s understandable why a Rockies reunion didn’t happen.

So was one month of Pillar in a Rockies uniform worth the price? The answer is no, and the level of emphasis on no could certainly rise depending on how high Wallace advances in the Red Sox system. In a case of damned if you do (trade prospects to try to make the postseason) or damned if you don’t (see if the Rockies could snap out of a funk on their own), the Rockies did something with Pillar, but it simply didn’t work.

While Givens had team control after the 2020 season and will be a part of the Colorado bullpen in 2021 (and could be potentially used as a trade chip at this year’s deadline), signing Pillar was a chance the Rockies took on earning a spot in an expanded postseason. It didn’t happen and Pillar will return to Coors Field in 2021 in the visitors’ dugout with the Mets. Meanwhile, the Rockies will see if younger players such as Sam Hilliard, Garrett Hampson, or perhaps even Yonathan Daza can make an impact in center.

Next. The interesting NRIs heading to spring training for Colorado. dark

There are, of course, now questions with left and center field with the Rockies, most circulating around Ian Desmond’s return and what that will mean for Raimel Tapia, who took control of left field in 2020. Will Desmond push Tapia to center and then Hilliard and Hampson will look for playing time there as well? Or will Desmond and Tapia form a platoon in left, leaving center open for a spring training battle? This is one of the questions we’re looking to have answered as spring training rolls along.