About three or four hours ahead of Monday’s 8 p.m. deadline for offering 2020 contracts, the Orioles began getting some interest in Jonathan Villar. With time running out, they traded Villar to the Miami Marlins.
Executive Vice President/General Manager Mike Elias is happy about his team’s acquisition of 23-year-old left-hander Easton Lucas for Villar but sad to see the infielder go.
“He was a tremendously exciting player for us,” Elias said in a conference call. “Played in every single game. We’ve all seen the numbers he put up. He was a joy to have … It’s hard to let him go, but we’ve got to keep our eye on our strategic objectives, which prioritize the future right now.”
This is the second trade Elias has made of an Oriole veteran in the last five months. In July, he traded starter Andrew Cashner to the Boston Red Sox for two teenaged Dominican Summer League players. Elias contends that the market for players about to be non-tendered isn’t as robust as it once was.
“We’re pleased that we came away with a pitcher that we like,” he said.
Lucas, a 14th-round draft pick in 2019, had a 3.63 ERA in 13 games in Rookie League and Short-Season ball, striking out 41 and walking nine in 34 2/3 innings.
Elias said Lucas throws 89-92 mph and has “two distinct breaking balls,” and a changeup that is effective against right-handed hitters. “He’s somebody that could project as a back-end starter for us, possibly with good development.”
The Orioles could have offered a contract to Villar, which according to MLBTradeRumors.com could have cost the Orioles $10.4 million in arbitration, but they decided to use that money in other ways.
“I was hopeful that we would be able to return a net that we liked given that we were motivated to trade him,” Elias said. “His return was such that it made sense to make that move right now rather than carry forward into the arbitration process.”
The Orioles didn’t trade Villar last July and could have held on to him and tried to move him next July, but they didn’t.
“We’re going to miss to him, but this is the right move for us on a number of levels,” Elias said.
“As much as we all enjoyed Jonathan and how well he played this year, with where he was in his career, and coming up against free agency, with the salary range he was getting into, we felt like there are players that have a little bit more long-term possibility with our organization and where it’s going.”
There was a report late last week that the Orioles were getting closer to a deal for starting pitcher Dylan Bundy, but he wasn’t traded.
“Dylan’s a really good starting pitcher,” Elias said. “He had a good year for us … There are a lot of teams looking for pitching right now, and he’s a popular guy in that respect. We have a lot of conversations about our players on the major league roster. That’s just where we’re at right now as an organization and his is a name I hear often.
“Until a trade is done or if it ever comes, he’s a part of our team, a part of our rotation, and we look forward to seeing him in Sarasota.”
The Orioles need to replace Villar’s production — .274 average, 24 home runs, 73 RBIs, 40 steals — in the middle infield by trade or free agent signings. In addition to that, Elias said that the team will be looking for additional candidates for the starting rotation during next week’s Winter Meetings in San Diego.
“Whether any of that comes on major league contracts or minor league contracts is yet to be seen,” Elias said.
The Orioles also are looking for a fourth catcher to supplement Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns. Minor league deals for outfielders and corner infielders are also possible.
Elias acknowledged that the Orioles don’t have major league ready candidates for the middle infield but mentioned Rylan Bannon, who finished the season at Triple-A Norfolk, and Mason McCoy, who ended 2019 with Double-A Bowie, as future possibilities.
Bannon is primarily a third basema, but plays second. McCoy is mainly a shortstop.
On Monday, the Orioles offered contracts to five arbitration-eligible players: infielder Hanser Alberto, pitchers Bundy, Miguel Castro and Mychal Givens and rightfielder/first baseman Trey Mancini. They signed reliever Richard Bleier to a reported one-year, $915,000 contract.
“We think it was a very positive period for our team and our long-term objectives,” Elias said. “We have put ourselves in good position to bring a lot of our growing 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 future.”