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Kevin Pillar, the Blue Jays, and the acceptance of change

For the first time in my blogging career, I’m not going to open up a Baseball Reference or Fangraphs page to aid in the writing process. I won’t be looking at or even mentioning statistics or sabermetrics. This time, I want to talk about baseball, and the emotional and nostalgic impact it has on so many fans.

The Blue Jays traded Kevin Pillar.

Two years ago, it would’ve been unthinkable to even begin to type that sentence. As surprising as it seems, Pillar, an ageing, depressingly regressing commodity, was dealt to the San Francisco Giants for a trio of names that, despite their potential, aren’t nearly as popular or heroic as the man who was traded away.

Kevin Pillar was always a supporting cast member in the epic theatrical productions that were the Toronto Blue Jays of 2015 and 2016. He was never as well-known as Edwin Encarnacion or Russell Martin, nor as notorious as Jose Bautista. He wasn’t as flashy as Marcus Stroman and he wasn’t as electric as Josh Donaldson.

Still, he was a fun player to watch.

We all remember the catches, some of which seemed superhuman. It was ridiculous, immensely fun, and, for a while, made us feel as though the team had a piece that would outlast the core and live on in Blue Jays history for years.

Pillar was a staple. I won’t look at the numbers, but I can almost assure you that he played close to every game over the past three seasons.

Of course, some may complain about his performance at the plate, and for good reason. He wasn’t a stellarly consistent hitter, nor did he boast a fantastic eye while hitting. But, for a glove-first outfielder who put on clinic night after night after night, his offence was more than enough for the team and the way it was constructed at the time.

Now, he dons the black and orange of the NL West’s San Francisco Giants. He’s gone, and just like him, we, as Blue Jays fans and followers, will have to accept that fact.

With the trade of Pillar, many massive names that helped take the team to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances are gone.

The list seems nearly endless, but now, the likes of David Price (BOS), Edwin Encarnacion (SEA via CLE), Josh Donaldson (ATL via CLE), Troy Tulowitzki (NYY), Marco Estrada (OAK), Jose Bautista (FA), Russell Martin (LAD), Roberto Osuna (HOU), Ryan Goins (CHI via KCR), J.A. Happ (NYY) and Brett Cecil (STL) are all no longer with the club. As weird as it may seem to say out loud, Pillar now joins that group.

It has only been three and a half years since Jose Bautista’s legendary bat flip. 181 weeks. 1269 days. 30456 hours. 1827360 minutes. But, for some reason, it feels like it’s been so much longer than that.

In all honesty, part of me wants to be sad. Those names, as abundant and occasionally frustrating as they may be, brought me and my family an immense amount of joy and happiness.

Those seasons were both exceptionally exciting and tremendously thrilling. I know numerous individuals who, had it not been for those two spectacular seasons, would not have become fans of the Blue Jays and the sport in general.

Those teams were crucial to renewing interest in baseball in this city. A youth baseball coordinator in Barrie, Ontario told me that after the 2015 postseason, over 300 kids signed up to play baseball in his association, which had previously only had about 125 players.

Those teams are no more, and that is an unavoidable truth. But, if there’s anything that this trade has made me realize, it’s that the Blue Jays are going to be different, and that’s okay. Actually, that’s great.

Dwelling on the past is never good, nor is it particularly healthy. In the same sense, looking forward to the future is brilliantly optimistic and cathartic in the best ways. The Blue Jays have the best prospect in baseball stowed away in their minor-league system. They also have two other sons of former big leaguers who, in their own rights, are incredible players who’ll surely have an impact once they reach the game’s highest level.

Outside of the main group lie Kevin Smith, Eric Pardinho, Nate Pearson, T.J. Zeuch, Jordan Groshans, Samad Taylor, Ryan Noda, Orelvis Martinez, Chavez Young, Adam Kloffenstein, Ryan Noda, and Yennsy Diaz, to name a dozen.

Casual fans might sigh at the fleeting nature of some of the franchise’s most iconic stars. That’s okay. Some hardcore fans may doubt that the current regime will bring to Rogers Centre what Alex Anthopoulos aggressively brought during his tenure as general manager. That too is okay.

With the trade of Kevin Pillar, the Anthopoulos/Donaldson/Bautista era of Blue Jays baseball has officially been ushered out. Sure, you can still wear those jerseys to games and reminisce about one of the best flippin’ moments in franchise history, but those days are gone, and this deal made that strikingly clear. It’s over, and that’s alright.

It could be said that general manager Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro wanted to do just that in trading Pillar. Many have criticized the front office for not taking enough ownership of the club’s current situation. After all, the contracts of Tulowitzki and Martin were not their doing. In making this trade, the front office asserted themselves, even if in a very small and predictable way.

One day, the Blue Jays will return to a point of interest and intrigue. While that day might not be today, tomorrow, or even anytime this year or next, it will be one day.

Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, and maybe there are other fans who are celebrating this trade as if it’s the best thing the team has ever done. Even so, this trade has brought to the forefront a lot of memories and emotions.

So, let us dream of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. smashing endless amounts of bombs to deep centre, and let us wish for days of a Cavan-Bo double-play tandem that’ll turn two with ruthless efficiency.

The 2019 season might be baseball purgatory for the Toronto Blue Jays. But, just like any cyclical evolution, there are going to be periods of mediocrity. With Kevin Pillar and the rest of the heroic mashers gone, the team can start building up the outfield (and, to some extent, the entire roster) in a way that is unique to their manager and prospects.

As Christine McVie once gracefully wrote in Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit Don’t Stop: “Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow. Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here. It’ll be here, better than before. Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone…“

I think we can all take a page out of Christine’s book and look eloquently to tomorrow’s Blue Jays.

  • Ianawesomo

    Pillar, like so many players, was overrated by the fans. Frankly, a number of his catches covered up bad route running and slow off the crack of the bat. He was okay. Let it go.

  • Terry Mesmer

    I don’t get the sentiment for Pillar. He was a dumb guy who, just like Brett Lawrie, wasted his talent by going max effort every pitch while never ever not-ever using his brain. Glad we got something for him instead of the inevitable non-tender that would have happened at the end of this season.