Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias stated on a conference call that conversations with other teams picked up three to four hours prior to the 8 p.m. deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Marlins offered young left-hander Easton Lucas and a deal was born.
Villar was entering his final arbitration year before free agency and the Orioles didn’t want to carry a contract that could exceed $10 million. Meanwhile, they heavily scouted Lucas before the Marlins chose him this year in the 14th round out of Pepperdine University.
Lucas registered a 3.98 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 12 games, including nine starts, for short-season Single-A Batavia. He walked nine batters and struck out 40 in 31 2/3 innings.
“We had a pretty good file on him dating back to the draft,” Elias said. “He was somebody we viewed possibly as a late Day 2 talent coming out of Pepperdine. The Marlins ended up getting him in the 14th round after a huge year in his senior year at Pepperdine in 2019 after dealing with a little bit of injury in his sophomore season.
“We like his stuff. He’s 89-92 (mph) with a fastball that has some hopping life to it. He’s got two distinct breaking balls and a slider and curveball that have a chance to be average pitches. I think our pitching program in particular can help him with that. And he’s got a real nice change that plays well to right-handed hitters.
“So it’s a starter’s profile and somebody that with continued success, and he had a great pro debut this summer in addition to the good amateur career that he had, he’s somebody that can project as a backend starter for us possibly with good development.”
Villar would have been a non-tender if Elias hadn’t found a trade partner. He was one of the most productive and popular players on the team, but didn’t fit in the rebuild and its budget constraints.
“It’s very difficult,” Elias said. “He was a tremendously exciting player for us all year. Played in every single game. We’ve all seen the numbers he put up. He was a joy to have, certainly my year here, and from everything we’ve seen and heard dating back to 2018 when he came over from the Brewers. And he’s a fun player. He’s a switch-hitter, he runs, he plays hard, he’s a great guy and I’ve personally known him for a long time, so it was hard to let him go. But we’ve got to keep an eye on our strategic objective, which prioritizes the future right now.
“With a guy who’s going into his last year of arbitration with the team, facing free agency, who is set to command a large salary that he’s earned through his play and in years past, when we have an opportunity to use that playing time on other players who may be around longer, to use that payroll on other players and other objectives that fit more tightly with our strategy and get a young pitcher back that we view as a prospect, a potential future piece for the team, it’s something you have to do.
“But I think as you’ve seen around the league, the nature of the tender deadline and arbitration decisions has changed and the types of avenues for players that are on the market at the tender deadline have changed, and the types of returns available with one year control remaining are different than perhaps they were several years ago. So we’re pleased that we came away with a pitcher that we like, somebody who’s going to slot in with the growing stable of arms that we’ve got going on in the lower minor leagues.”
Elias didn’t want to dig too deeply into the waiver process with Villar, since it’s supposed to be confidential.
“I can say, though, in regard to Villar’s specific situation and his trade market, I was hopeful that we’d be able to net a return that we liked, given that we were motivated to trade him. And we felt that this return was such that it made sense to make that move right now rather than carry forward into the arbitration process or whatever else may have come beyond this day,” Elias said.
“Certainly, we’re pleased with where it landed. We had listened on him in the past, last trade deadline, but nothing came our way and we were the beneficiaries of a huge second half that he had last year and he really had a great August and kept our team rolling down the stretch. We’re going to miss him, but this was the right move for us on a number of levels.”
Elias said the last 24 hours represented a “very positive period for our team and our long-term objectives.” He included how the club reached contract agreements with pitchers Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro, infielder/outfielder Trey Mancini and infielder Hanser Alberto, and signed left-hander Richard Bleier for 2020 rather than exchange salary figures.
“There are guys that are young talents for us, had good years last year and continue to grow with the team and are deserving of the opportunity to keep going forward,” Elias said.
“We feel like we have put ourselves in good position to bring a lot of our young core players back next year, but also having added to our future and our minor league stockpile, which is a big part of our strategic plan at this point in time,” Elias said.
“I think bringing in a young pitcher like Lucas into the fold is exactly what we’re trying to do and makes sense for our future objectives.”
Bundy is drawing serious trade interest and he still could be moved to another team.
“Dylan’s a really good starting pitcher, had a good year for us, a good step forward for us, and has a lot of potential,” Elias said. “He’s got four pitches, he strikes out a lot of hitters, as good a competitor as there is out there and there are a lot of teams looking for pitching right now and so he’s a popular guy in that respect. And as I’ve said all along, we have conversations about any of our players on the major league roster.
“That’s just where we’re at right now in our organization. And his is a name that I hear often. But until a trade is done or if it ever comes, he’s a part of our team, part of our rotation, and we look forward to seeing him in Sarasota.”
The Orioles will try to avoid arbitration hearings with Bundy, Mancini, Givens, Alberto and Castro. They have multiple years of control remaining.
“That makes it very easy to tender them, not to feel any pressure to explore their market prior to the tender deadline, although we’re open-minded to that, and very happy to be rolling forward with these players and look forward to continue to talk to them over the winter.
“We want to finalize the contract prior to the arbitration process as soon as we can, so we’ll continue to have conversations up to the exchange deadline in January, but the bottom line is these players are on our club and that’s a good thing. They’re pieces not just for 2020, but beyond.”
Elias also shared a shopping list that’s been made public in the past. He is looking for back end starters, whether on major league or minor league deals, along with a veteran middle infielder and a fourth catcher for depth. Villar’s departure increases the need to find players at shortstop and second base who are plus defenders.
“Given that we’re able to do it in a cost-effective way and a way that makes sense for us,” Elias said.
There also could be some minor league moves for the outfield and corner infield spots.