There were some frustrated Orioles fans when the club traded infielder Jonathan Villar on Dec. 2, 2019. The club was not prepared to pay him a projected $10.4 million through arbitration, even coming off his strong 2019 season. So he was dealt to the Miami Marlins for minor league lefty Easton Lucas.
The trade doesn’t look so bad today, even though Lucas has yet to throw in a game on the O’s farm. Villar produced an OPS+ of 109 for the 2019 Orioles, which tied for the second-best of his career. But his OPS+ between Miami and Toronto last year was 64, a career low. He hit with some power for the Orioles, averaging a home run every 29.8 plate appearances in ‘19. Last year, he average one every 103.5 plate appearances.
But now the Orioles need a shortstop and in this entry, Villar’s name surfaced as a possibility. He’s a free agent and the Orioles have reportedly reached out to his agent. He’s at least on the radar.
Villar was erratic on defense for the Orioles, sometimes following a great play with a careless error just moments later. Now will the team consider him as the successor at short to José Iglesias? If added, he could also play second with someone else at short. The O’s could add more than one player for shortstop, as my colleague, Roch Kubatko, suggested with one major league and one minor league signing.
When the O’s traded Villar to Miami, he eventually signed for $8.2 million for the 2020 season. On Aug. 31, Miami traded him to Toronto for minor league outfielder Griffin Conine, the son of former Oriole Jeff Conine. Griffin Conine is Miami’s No. 18 prospect, per MLBPipeline.com.
Sure, the O’s could have kept Villar and later traded him for a top 30 prospect, but the price tag would have been around $8 million to get the prospect. The trade of Iglesias, by comparison, was for a player due $3.5 million this year and one of the two pitchers they got back, right-hander Garrett Stallings, is their No. 26 prospect.
During the 2019 season, in which Villar played all 162 games, he filled up the stat sheet for Baltimore. He hit .274/.339/.453 with 33 doubles, five triples, 24 homers, 111 runs, 40 steals, 73 RBIs and an OPS of .792. Villar 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 homers/20 steals) in 2015.
Villar set career highs for at-bats (642), runs, hits (176), homers and RBIs. His 111 runs scored were the most by an Oriole since Melvin Mora scored 111 in 2004. His 4.0 Wins Above Replacement via FanGraphs.com ranked first on the club and 18th-best in the American League.
But as good as the guy was on offense for the Orioles that year, he was just about as bad for the Marlins and Blue Jays last year. He batted a combined .232/.301/.292 with an OPS of .593. He was particularly bad after the trade to Toronto. In 22 games with the Blue Jays, he hit .188/.278/.203 with a .481 OPS and OPS+ of 36 for Toronto.
I’m not sure what went wrong for Villar, but he struggled for much of the shortened 2020 season after putting up one of his best years for the Orioles a season earlier.
For the ‘19 Orioles, Villar made 85 starts at second base and 73 at shortstop. There were 16 players who played at least 600 innings at short in the AL in 2019. Among that group, Villar ranked 12th in FanGraphs.com’s defensive ranking. He was 10th in Defensive Runs Saved and 11th in Ultimate Zone Rating.
The Orioles need a shortstop. Villar is available. MLBTradeRumors.com, in its top 50 free agent predictions, had the player at No. 50 (pitcher Chris Archer) getting a one-year deal worth $4 million. Presumably, players like Villar who are not in the top 50, could be had for less.