Austin Slater

What are Giants' plans in center field after Kevin Pillar non-tender?

What are Giants' plans in center field after Kevin Pillar non-tender?

SAN FRANCISCO -- The decision to non-tender Kevin Pillar, like several others made over the past year, was not a popular one with Giants fans.

Pillar was a Willie Mac Award winner who did two things that fans could easily cheer: Hit home runs and make diving catches.

Go on Twitter and you'll find fans who say they won't attend a game next season and a weird contingent that believes Farhan Zaidi is a secret agent still working for the Dodgers. But all that anger ignores one key fact. The man who decided to move on from Pillar is the same one who acquired him a week into the season for two players who are no longer with the Blue Jays and one who had an 8.11 ERA in the minors. 

The Giants hired Zaidi to make good decisions, and there's no doubt that the trade for Pillar was a brilliant one. Zaidi believes moving on after one season is the right move, too, and time will tell if he's correct. 

What we know for now is that there's no going back, and there will be a new look in center field. In a conversation on Monday afternoon, Zaidi said the emphasis will be on adding production to the corner outfield spots. It's hard to find a good center fielder in free agency anyway, so the Giants will go young and go in-house.

Here's what that might look like in 2020:

The Favorite

Mike Yastrzemski got just 30 innings in center field last season because Pillar was an everyday player, but he generally looked comfortable out there, and he should. Yastrzemski actually has more minor league starts in center field (224) than any other position, and he has over 2,000 professional innings of experience in the middle of the outfield. 

Yastrzemski probably won't be climbing many walls or diving nearly as often as Pillar did, but he did a nice job in the corners last year and was worth seven Defensive Runs Saved in right field and eight overall. 

The Giants are fully confident that Yastrzemski can handle center field at Oracle Park -- the dimensions are shrinking a bit, too -- and if the season started today he would be their center fielder. 

The Young Guys

A year ago at this time, Steven Duggar was the Center Fielder of the Future. Duggar is still just 26 years old and is expected to be 100 percent for spring training after another season-ending shoulder injury. 

The Giants can't go into 2020 counting on much from Duggar, but they certainly are hoping for a breakthrough. If he improves his plate discipline and taps into his natural speed, Duggar could be the everyday center fielder. He's the organization's best defensive center fielder and would have been even if Pillar was brought back.

Jaylin Davis is another player the Giants want to take a long look at, although he has just 30 minor league starts in center field. Davis may see time out there in the big leagues, but he's more likely to benefit from the Pillar decision in a different way. With Yastrzemski set for lots of time in center, Davis -- a 25-year-old who hit 35 homers in the minors last year -- will have an opportunity to win at-bats in one of the corner spots. The same holds true for Austin Slater and potentially Chris Shaw. 

The Wild Card

When Zaidi traded a week of strong Drew Pomeranz relief appearances for Mauricio Dubon, he mentioned that one thing the Giants loved about Dubon was his potential as a super-utility player. On deadline day, Zaidi compared Dubon to Chris Taylor, but another Dodger could be a better fit. Kik√© Hernandez mostly started at second base for the Dodgers last year but also made 43 appearances in the outfield, and Dubon is expected to shag plenty of fly balls next spring. 

Given where the roster is right now, Dubon is also the starting second baseman and a strong option to split time with Brandon Crawford at shortstop. But if he can handle center field, the Giants would have more of the flexibility they're seeking. They plan to be active in the infield market this offseason. If they add another middle infielder who hits right-handed, could you see that player at shortstop against left-handers with Donovan Solano at second and Dubon in center? 

The Future

When the Giants drafted Heliot Ramos in 2017, some scouts predicted he would move to right field. But the Giants have kept Ramos in center and there's no indication that he'll need to be moved next season. There were fears that Ramos would outgrow the position as he hit his early 20s, but he appeared slimmed down in the Arizona Fall League and the Giants will keep him in the middle of the diamond for now. 

[RELATED: Dickerson returns to Giants on one-year deal]

Now, Ramos is only 20 and doesn't even have 100 at-bats above A-ball, but the new regime wants to be aggressive with top prospects and Ramos will come to Scottsdale in February with a strong chance to earn a promotion to Triple-A. The plan is for Ramos to spend all, or most, of the season in Sacramento, but a September call-up seems likely and the Giants won't hold their No. 2 prospect back if the bat proves ready earlier than that. 

If you're looking way down the line, Hunter Bishop, last year's top pick, is also a center fielder. Bishop is likely at least a couple of years away, but he should start next season in San Jose. 

Giants weighing present vs. future with Kevin Pillar contract decision

Giants weighing present vs. future with Kevin Pillar contract decision

The Giants have a decision to make with Kevin Pillar. Will they bring back the popular center fielder who bashed 21 homers last season and earned a 10th place NL MVP vote? 

It's not that simple. 

Pillar is entering his third and final year of arbitration eligibility, and after one of the best seasons of his seven-year career, he will come with a hefty price tag. The veteran turns 31 years old in January and is projected to make nearly $10 million this offseason in arbitration. That is, if the Giants let him get there. 

San Francisco has until Dec. 2 to offer Pillar a contract or he will be non-tendered and become a free agent. While the exciting center fielder was perhaps the Giants' best player last season, he might not fit their timeline. 

"I think being in the transition phase that we're at, and having some younger outfielders we may look to create some playing time for -- that's a little bit of the dynamic," Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said to The Athletic's Tim Kawakami when asked about Pillar on the "TK Show." 

The Giants once again are entering an offseason with question marks in their outfield. Mike Yastrzemski earned a spot for at least 2020 after batting .272 with 21 homers and an .852 OPS in 107 games last season as a 28-year-old rookie. But there are other intriguing options, too. 

Austin Slater, who turns 27 years old in December, can play multiple positions around the diamond and finally proved to have some power in his bat. Speaking of power, Alex Dickerson -- who also is arbitration-eligible -- hit six homers and had an eye-opening .529 slugging percentage in just 56 games for the Giants, but injuries once again derailed his season. 

Other in-house outfield options for the Giants include younger players like Steven Duggar (26), Jaylin Davis (25) and Chris Shaw (26). There also is the chance top prospect Heliot Ramos (20) makes his MLB debut next season

This doesn't mean that Pillar's time in San Francisco is over, though. Along with his 21 homers, he hit .264 with 87 RBI and a .735 OPS in 156 games for the Giants. Zaidi knows letting him go would be a big loss. 

"Kevin Pillar was the Willie Mac winner, he had a terrific season for us," Zaidi said. "Obviously he was incredibly popular with the fans -- not just with his production but his durability and the fact that he was out there every day."

[RELATED: Looking back at Giants Duffy-Moore trade with Rays]

Still, it's clear Zaidi's plan goes well beyond the 2020 season. 

"And again, I think the juncture that we're in as an organization, we're gonna have to view every baseball decision we make as a little bit of a tradeoff between production and development, and the present and the future," he said.

Jaylin Davis lives up to Giants' expectations, shows off elite speed

Jaylin Davis lives up to Giants' expectations, shows off elite speed

For weeks, Bruce Bochy has been asked about Jaylin Davis' power. It wasn't on display in the outfielder's debut, but another intriguing attribute was. 

Giants people have described Davis, called up Wednesday, as a good runner, and that certainly showed as he got his first big league hit out of the way. Davis did so quickly, reaching on an infield single in his first at-bat. He hit a slow grounder to third and got up to 30.1 feet per second while beating out a wide throw. 

That was the second-best sprint speed of the season by a Giant, trailing just an Austin Slater dash of 30.4 feet per second. Anything above 30 is considered elite. 

Hitting seventh, Davis went 1 for 3 in his debut with a walk. He was removed on a double-switch in the sixth as the Giants tried to hold a lead, but it didn't work. Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run double off Tyler Rogers to give the Cardinals the lead. 

The Giants would rally back, though, getting a 9-8 win on a wild night in St. Louis. Kevin Pillar's two-run homer in the eighth was the difference and gave him 21 for the season. Pillar ended up with four hits. 

"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say my confidence grew a little bit when I saw that first (hit) get through the infield and drove in a run and kinda opened the floodgates for me a little bit," Pillar said. "Just keeping things simple, seeing the ball, focus on staying on the ball ... I know that homers are (on) mistakes and was just trying to capitalize on the mistake he made in the eighth inning."