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Braves sign Kevin Pillar to minor league deal

The 34-year-old outfielder spent most of last year with the Dodgers’ Triple-A team

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

About a decade ago, a notably younger baseball fan version of myself was irrationally annoyed by Kevin Pillar. “What do you mean, Kevin Millar? There’s already a Kevin Millar that retired fewer than five years ago. There are just way too many Kevins.”

Well, bad news for 2013 me, as Kevin Pillar is coming to the Braves. Not Kevin Millar, who is 51 years old now. Just making it clear.

Millar is a veteran of parts of 10 major league seasons at this point, and will be in his age-34 season for 2023. He combined very good center field defense with some decent, slightly below average hitting in 2015 for a 3.7 fWAR season, but has been more of a role player since, running below-average batting lines with okay outfield defense.

He had a nice 2020 (1.0 fWAR in 223 PAs, best xwOBA of his career for the years where it’s been available, outhitting it for a 105 wRC+), but went backwards in 2021 with the worst xwOBA of his career and 0.8 fWAR in 347 PAs. That earned him just a minor league deal with the Dodgers for 2022, and he spent most of the first two months of the season in Triple-A. A few days after being called up, he hurt his shoulder sliding into third base, and underwent shoulder surgery that knocked him out for most of the rest of the year.

Pillar is projected for a decent role player’s line: 0.5ish WAR in 250ish PAs. His minor league deal will pay him $3 million if he makes the roster.

For the Braves, Pillar represents a potential handcuff to Michael Harris II’s platoon struggles if he makes the roster, as Pillar has a career 104 wRC+ against southpaws and a bad 81 wRC+ against righties. The flaw in this plan is that Pillar’s center field defense hasn’t actually been positive by OAA since his 2016 career year, so the Braves may be better off sticking with Harris full time given that Pillar is in his mid-30s at this point.

On a “baseball is weird” note, Pillar is joining the team that maimed his face a few years ago, when Jacob Webb hit him in the kisser with a pitch with the bases loaded in May 2021. Webb signed a minor league deal with the Angels earlier this offseason, so the two will not be teammates, which add a sillier flair to these proceedings.

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