10-year MLB veteran outfielder likely to retire after season

Just two months ago, 35-year-old outfielder Kevin Pillar was sitting home in Scottsdale, Ariz., unemployed, and released by the worst team in baseball, the Chicago White Sox.

He hated the idea that his 9-year, 10-month career was going to end this way.

He desperately wanted to reach 10-year service-time milestone, and getting 1,000 career hits sure would be nice, too.

Well on Saturday, Pillar walked into the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, and there were balloons, streamers and bottles of wine awaiting at his locker.

He reached the 10-year anniversary in what he believes will be the final season of his career.

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Angels GM Perry Minasian, who was with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 when they selected Pillar in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft, and picked him off waivers when Mike Trout underwent knee surgery this year, spoke about Pillar’s accomplishments in front of the team. Pillar followed with his own speech.

“Great guy, great makeup, makes the guys around him better,’ Minasian said. “He’s been the through the good, the bad. He’s been an everyday player. He’s been a bench player. A platoon player. He’s been unbelievable.’

Who would have imagined that after hitting .160 for the White Sox, and wondering if he’d play again, he would be hitting .299 with six homers and a .867 OPS, while eclipsing the 1,000-hit mark?

Now, after being with nine different organizations since 2019, he wants to go out on his terms.

“I watched some of my good friends and teammates, who were much better players than me, maybe go a year too long,’ Pillar told USA TODAY Sports. ‘I think it would be kind of cool to go out playing really well, and people being curious to why you don’t want to play anymore, and not that the game kicked you out.

“Not everyone really gets that opportunity in this game. I was very close to not getting that opportunity. I don’t know what the future looks like, even in this year, but if I can keep up what I’m doing and having a a very good offensive year, it might be a cool thing to leave people wanting more. It might be cool for people to ask, “Why wouldn’t you want to do it anymore as opposed to, you know, fading away.’’

Pillar remembers former Blue Jays teammate Jose Bautista being a six-time All-Star and one of the most feared hitters in the American League – twice leading the league in home runs – to playing his final seasons bouncing around and no longer wanted.

“There are some people whose lasting impression of him is bouncing around from team to team,’’ Pillar said, “and not the same fearful hitter that he once was. … Wouldn’t it be a cool thing for him to have gone out, maybe on top of your game, and people thinking, ‘Man, he could still play.’

“You don’t want it to be like, “Is he retiring, or is it because he can’t get a job?’ Not too many people get to actually retire. So, people like [former Astros outfielder] Michael Brantley, he chose to retire. If he wanted to play, everyone in baseball knows he would have had a job. He gets to choose retirement. Not a lot of people get to do that. They say they’re retiring, when really they can’t get a job.’

So, is this definitely it?

“In my heart, I’m 98% sure,’ said Pillar, married with two children, 6 and 4. “Obviously, things change but I think just going through another off-season of the unknown, and what kind of stress it puts on me and my family, is not healthy. If I’m fortunate enough to get a phone call early in the off-season, and someone wants to give me some money and a job, it’s going to be a conversation I’m going to have with my family.

“But I’m just going to enjoy this, play for the love of the game, and will be at peace at whatever happens.’’

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