Wednesday night’s unexpected trade of shortstop José Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels brought a fan reaction similar to a move the Orioles made a year before. On December 2, 2019, just before the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, the Orioles traded infielder Jonathan Villar to the Miami Marlins for a minor league left-handed pitcher, Easton Lucas.
Iglesias had had his $3.5 million option for 2021 picked up on November 2nd, so his departure wasn’t expected. Villar was about to be non-tendered, but the Orioles found a team that would take him and a salary that could have exceeded $10 million.
Villar was coming off a career year in 2019 when he played in all 162 games, hit 24 home runs and drove in 73 runs, both personal highs, and hit .274 with a .792 OPS. He also stole 40 bases, and became the fifth Oriole to hit for the cycle.
He split time between second base and shortstop, but the Orioles, who had no desire to extend him, didn’t want to risk an arbitrator handing him a $10.4 million salary, as MLBTradeRumors.com thought he could get.
When the trade was made, the reaction was predictable. The Orioles were losing one of their two most potent offensive players from 2019. (It turned out with Trey Mancini missing the 60-game 2020 season because of colon cancer surgery, they’d go without both of them.)
A little over a month after Villar was traded, Iglesias was signed to a one-year deal for $2.5 million with the $3.5 million option for 2021. If he played well, and the season proceeded normally, it wouldn’t have been a surprise for him to be traded in July.
Obviously, it didn’t, and he had missed significant time because of a left quadriceps injury that left him unable to play regularly at shortstop at the time of the August 31st deadline this past season.
Villar didn’t have a good 2020, hitting just .232 with a .593 OPS in 52 games with Miami and Toronto, which acquired him at the deadline in exchange for minor league infielder Griffin Conine, the son of former Oriole Jeff Conine.
Villar is a free agent, and the Orioles could pursue him, but I doubt they will.
It turned out that Iglesias, who hit .373 with a .953 OPS, was a much better offensive player at a quarter of the salary the Orioles thought they might have to pay Villar. The Marlins and Villar settled on an $8.2 million contract for 2020, a hefty increase from the $4.825 million the Orioles paid him in 2019.
Since we don’t know who will play shortstop for the Orioles in 2021, it’s hard to make a judgment on the loss of Iglesias.
The non-tendering of Hanser Alberto was a bit of a surprise because I thought the team would be able to find a suitor for him. I didn’t expect him to be back, not when they agreed to a $1 million contract with Yolmer Sánchez.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said the team will continue talking with Alberto and will try to bring him back at a price lower than the $2.4 million he could fetch in arbitration.
Alberto could be an excellent pickup for a good team that would use him at second and third extensively against left-handers. He’s a career .350 hitter when facing left-handers.
The short-handed Orioles were forced to play him often against right-handers, against whom his career average is .237.
Besides agreeing to a contract with Sánchez, the Orioles also agreed on deals with catcher catcher Pedro Severino ($1.825 million), right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong ($825,000) and infielder Pat Valaika ($875,000 major league/$300,000 minors).
Severino’s deal makes it unlikely that Adley Rutschman will debut with the Orioles early in the season. If Rutschman arrives in July, which might be ambitious considering that he’s played in only 37 minor league games, Severino could be dealt to a team looking for catching depth.
Armstrong missed a month of 2020 because of a back injury, but he’s been effective for the Orioles, even though he’s out of options. Elias would like a bullpen of pitchers who can be optioned, but if Armstrong continues to perform well, it won’t be an issue.
Valaika’s inclusion was a surprise, but with the departure of Iglesias and Alberto, he provides depth, some power and experience at shortstop and second.
The Orioles have just two unsigned, arbitration-eligible players, Mancini and outfielder Anthony Santander.
Eshelman departs: After clearing waivers, right-handed pitcher Thomas Eshelman refused an outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk and chose free agency.
Question time: I’ll be answering Orioles questions next week. Please leave your questions in the comments below or email them to me: [email protected].