By 8 o’clock tonight, the Orioles will officially end Jonathan Villar’s time with the team. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Orioles placed Villar on outright waivers, knowing that another team wasn’t going to claim him.
No team had expressed interest in trading for him. Surely the Orioles would have jumped at the opportunity to get a pair of teenaged players from the Dominican Summer League as they did with Andrew Cashner last July.
But no team wants to pay Villar the $10.4 million that MLBTradeRumors.com estimated he would fetch in arbitration. If someone claimed him, they’d be stuck with that contract.
When he’s declared a free agent tonight, Villar can sign with any team, including the Orioles, for a lesser amount, which is highly unlikely. Or, he can sign with another team for a lesser amount, and perhaps get a multi-year deal for his troubles.
Executive Vice President/General Manager Mike Elias knows that Villar isn’t a part of the long-term plan for his team. It will be interesting to see what sort of market develops for him.
Villar, who missed none of the 216 games he was on hand for since joining the Orioles in August 2018, had career highs in home runs (24), RBIs (73) and runs scored (111) in 2019. He also stole 40 bases.
Baseballreference.com rated his WAR as 4.0 Fangraphs rates him a tick lower at 3.9, and he’s their 40th highest rated position player.
Those seemingly impressive stats don’t impress other teams.
The Orioles could have signed Villar for his final season before free agency and hoped he had another stellar season in 2020. But when they tried to trade him in July, there wasn’t a market for him, either.
His best month was August, when he hit .333 and had a robust 1.053 OPS. Perhaps if there had been a secondary August 31 trade deadline as there had been in previous years, the Orioles could have avoided the embarrassment of dumping him for no return at all.
If they kept Villar, they were taking the risk that they would get no return for him a year from now when he would be a free agent.
But they still have a risk. At this point, they don’t have anyone to play half the time at second and half at short as Villar did in 2019. Last season, Villar had 319 at-bats playing both second and short.
While his batting average was roughly the same (.270) at second and (.273) at short, he showed more punch as a second baseman, hitting 14 of his 23 home runs and driving in 44 of his 73 RBIs.
Hanser Alberto, who will be offered a contract, will inherit some of his playing time at second, but he’s not a shortstop.
Richie Martin, whom the Orioles carried on the roster throughout the season because of Rule 5 requirements, could play shortstop but the team would like to see him play in Triple-A to become a better offensive player.
The team doesn’t have another true option in the middle infield. No infielder from Norfolk or Double-A Bowie was considered worthy enough of a September recall.
Last week, the Orioles did re-sign Jesmuel Valentin, who briefly played second and third as well as the outfield in 46 games for Philadelphia in 2018. He played 38 games at shortstop for the Baysox last season.
They also signed infielders Malquin Canelo and Angelo Mora. Neither is considered a big-time infield prospect.
Elias will have to scour the free agent lists to find alternatives to Martin and Villar.
The Orioles aren’t in the business of spending major money on free agents, and they’re hoping that a placeholder or two can be found cheaply.
Villar is one of seven arbitration-eligible Orioles who must be offered contracts by tonight’s 8 o’clock deadline or they become free agents. Two others, pitchers Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens, could be targeted by other teams, though their estimated 2020 salaries, $5.7 million for Bundy and $3.2 million for Givens, aren’t nearly as high as Villar’s.
Bundy and Givens come with two years of club control. Trey Mancini, who is up for arbitration for the first time, is also expected to draw $5.7 million.
The other players eligible are Alberto ($1.9 million), pitchers Richard Bleier ($1.1 million) and Miguel Castro ($1.2 million).
NOTE: On Monday morning, the Orioles agreed to terms with Bleier, avoiding arbitration.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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