It is going to come down to this: Can a team still in the early stages of a rebuild in 2020 afford a $10 million middle infielder?
MLBTradeRumors.com yesterday came out with its arbitration projections for this winter, and predicted that the Orioles would have to give Jonathan Villar a salary of $10.4 million for next year, more than doubling his $4.825 million paycheck from this past season. That was a much higher projection than I expected.
It surely was a strong year for Villar, who hit .274/.339/.453 with 33 doubles, five triples, 24 homers, 40 steals, 111 runs and an OPS of .792. Villar, who played in all 162 games, hit his 20th home run on Aug. 26 to mark the eighth time in Orioles history that a player has totaled 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season. He produced the first 20/20 season by an Oriole since Manny Machado (35 HRs/20 SBs) in 2015.
Villar was the only player in the majors in 2019 with at least 24 homers and at least 40 steals. He ranked third in the major leagues in steals, was fifth in the American League in runs and tied for ninth in the AL with 176 hits. Villar’s 111 runs are the most by an Oriole since Melvin Mora also scored 111 in 2004, and tied for the eighth-most in a single season in team history.
According to FanGraphs.com, Villar led the Orioles with 4.0 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which was the 18th-highest in the AL. In his stellar 2016 season, when Villar hit .285/.369/.457 and had 63 steals with an OPS of .826 for Milwaukee, his FanGraphs WAR was 3.0.
In the second half of 2019, Villar hit .291/.353/.490 with an OPS of .843. He was outstanding and his production was enough to overcome his occasional baserunning and defensive gaffes. He was often solid on defense at second and shortstop, two positions where the organization is not exactly overflowing with high-level prospects.
Late in the year, manager Brandon Hyde provided this take on Villar.
“I’ve always seen his tools,” Hyde said. “I saw him for a few years in Milwaukee. He’s always shown tools, but the consistency of his game has improved. He’s still got a lot of improving to do and can still get better. But he’s got a nice game and you know he’s really played shortstop well, especially in the second half. A guy that switch-hits that can play the middle with 20 homers and close to 40 bags. And he can improve. There are some discipline-on-the-bases things he can improve on and some strike-zone discipline he could improve on. But he’s given us everything he’s got and I really appreciate it.”
The Orioles could certainly use Villar in 2020. But can they afford that price tag? On the books already for 2020 are Chris Davis at $21.1 million and Alex Cobb at $14 million. There are seven arbitration-eligible Orioles, including Villar. They project to get a combined $29.2 million. That puts the rebuilding Orioles at $64.3 million for nine players. That is before any possible outside additions and before they sign all their pre-arbitration players.
The Orioles could look to trade Villar. But his 2019 production for a potential suitor is potentially offset by his projected salary and that he is under team control just for one more year. The O’s could retain Villar at that price and look to deal him at the 2020 deadline. They could non-tender him, meaning they will not offer him arbitration and he would become a free agent, free to sign anywhere.
For now, the next move with Villar is up to the club. Keep him, trade him, offer him a multi-year deal or non-tender him.
Villar’s 2019 season was very productive and it earned him millions. Soon we will find out if the dollars he’s due are too many for him to remain an Oriole.
They got No. 10 too: To the surprise of no one, O’s top draft pick, catcher Adley Rutschman, was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League. He hit .325/.413/.481 in 20 games with the Aberdeen IronBirds.
Perhaps the more significant news to come out of the NY-Penn ratings is that an O’s international signing, 21-year-old right-hander Leonardo Rodriguez, was rated No. 10. In 14 games this year he went 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA. Over 71 1/3 innings, he allowed 47 hits with 25 walks, 80 strikeouts, a .183 batting average against and a 1.01 WHIP. That average against ranked second in short-season ball, and Rodriguez was a key member of an Aberdeen staff that led the league in ERA, at 2.38, and also in average against, WHIP and shutouts with 12.
The write-up from Baseball America says of Rodriguez: “In a league that was more position player-heavy, Rodriguez stood out on the mound. He ranked among the league leaders in ERA (2.65), strikeouts (80), innings (71.1) and WHIP (1.01). It was the first season of his young career in which he struck out more than one batter per inning.
“It’s tough to miss the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Rodriguez, who has the type of body that is built for innings. His fastball can touch into the mid-90s and has natural angle on it because of his height.
“Managers were impressed with Rodriguez’s feel for how to pitch to hitters and work off his heater. His breaking ball is a true offspeed pitch that flashes above-average at times, but his third-pitch changeup is rather straight. Rodriguez’s frame, arm strength and feel for pitching create plenty to dream on as he heads towards full-season ball.”
From Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, Rodriguez was signed on Nov. 18, 2016 as an 18-year-old international amateur. The O’s media guide lists Fred Ferreira, Hector Rodriguez, and Ozzie Durand as the signing scouts.
Rodriguez was a mid-season All-Star in 2017 in the Dominican Summer League, and again this season in the New York-Penn League.
Finally, one killjoy on Twitter (there always is at least one) doesn’t like this Orioles tweet, but I found it funny, and if you need a laugh, it is worth checking out.