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Kevin Pillar becomes free agent after he and Mets decline options

Mets centerfielder Kevin Pillar is greeted in the

Mets centerfielder Kevin Pillar is greeted in the dugout after his solo home run during the sixth inning against the Cardinals in an MLB game at Citi Field on Sept. 15. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Kevin Pillar, the Mets’ backup outfielder who became a fan favorite after returning from a bloody beaning, became a free agent Thursday when he and the team declined their respective options on his deal, a source said.

Signed in February, Pillar had a creative contract structure that included a $2.9 million player option for 2022. When he turned that down this week, it became a $6.4 million team option or a $1.4 million buyout. The Mets chose the latter.

Pillar was a fine fourth outfielder last season, hitting .231 with a .277 OBP and .415 slugging percentage. He wound up ranked sixth on the team with 124 games played — and fourth with 15 home runs. He made 82 starts spread out across the three outfield spots.

His most famous moment came on May 17, when Atlanta reliever Jacob Webb hit Pillar in the face with a 95-mph fastball. That caused his nose to gush blood as he remained on the ground for a minute before he walked away under his own power. The grounds crew removing the bloody dirt near home plate caused the game to be delayed several minutes.

After the Mets’ 3-1 win that night, Pillar tweeted that he was "fine." That was mostly true, but he had surgery days later to repair his badly broken nose, which was the extent of his injuries.

Remarkably, Pillar returned from the injured list just 14 days after getting hit, entering as a defensive replacement and collecting a single against the Diamondbacks on May 31.

When Webb and Pillar next faced each other, on Oct. 1 in Atlanta, they tipped their caps to each other as Pillar stepped to the plate. He struck out swinging.

The Mets now have a dozen free agents, with Pillar joining the 11 who hit the market Wednesday: Javier Baez, Dellin Betances, Michael Conforto, Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, Heath Hembree, Rich Hill, Aaron Loup, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard and Jonathan Villar. Players are not allowed to sign with a new team until Sunday.

Syndergaard and Conforto are the Mets’ only candidates for the qualifying offer, a one-year contract for $18.4 million. The team has until Sunday to make those offers.

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