I said a few weeks ago the Reds should take a look at Jonathan Villar, the Baltimore Orioles 2B/SS. It looks like the price for Villar will be about $10 million, as the Orioles have sent him through waivers. All that’s left for the Reds to decide is whether or not to put in a claim for Villar’s services.
#orioles have put infielder Jonathan Villar on waivers. Been trying to trade him before Monday's deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players.
— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) November 27, 2019
The O’s have decided not to pay Villar’s salary in 2020 and have begun the process of outright releasing him. If the Reds are the only team that claims Villar, he becomes a Reds player and would go through the arbitration process with the Reds. If more than one team puts in a claim on Villar, the team with the poorest record last year gets the infielder.
Fun coincidence: Villar came up through Houston system, where he played shortstop. The Astros traded Villar to Milwaukee before 2016. Villar had a breakout offensive season (wRC+ of 120) for the Brewers, but they wanted to move him to 2B in 2017. Milwaukee had Orlando Arcia to play SS. Penciling in Villar at 2B made the then-current Brewers 2B expendable — Scooter Gennett. The Reds swooped in to pick up Gennett in late March and he had two tremendous offensive seasons in 2017 and 2018.
Villar produced runs at 7% above league average in 2019. That’s the positive. But spending $10 million on Villar isn’t a no-brainer decision.
Villar (28) becomes a free agent in 2021, so this would be a 1-year stint. That might be a plus from the Reds perspective if they see Nick Senzel or Jonathan India as the 2B of the future. The Reds salary commitment would be limited to 2020. But absent an extension, Villar is not a long-term fix and the Reds might be looking for more than a short-term guy.
A bunch of Villar’s value is in stolen bases. He swiped 40 last year, with nine CS. Those stats play better in fantasy baseball, where the CS don’t offset the SB, than they do in real baseball. As Villar moves along his aging curve, he may attempt fewer steals, or succeed less often. Stolen bases look good as a category, but they really don’t move the run-production needle much.
Also, Villar hit 24 home runs. That’s a nice year. But everyone hit 20+ homers in 2019 (well, 96 players did).
Villar is not a great 2B or SS. His defensive stats at both positions have been negative.
He’s also been inconsistent. Villar produced runs at 7% below league average in 2018. Will we see 2018 Villar or 2019 Villar in 2020? One bit of evidence comes from Statcast. Villar’s wOBA (2019) was .335, while his xwOBA (2019) was just .313. League average was .318. That means his hitting results exceeded his expected hitting results based on his actual launch angles and exit velocities. Villar benefitted a bit from a combination of defensive lapses and luck.
What should we expect in 2020? Steamer projections for 2020 have Villar at 97 wRC+, which is run production 3% below league average. So Villar may not be an above-average run producer in 2020. He won’t be above average on defense, either. Based on these numbers, it would be really unwise to expect Villar to be anywhere near a 4-WAR player again in 2019. The Reds should think of him as a 2-WAR player when they decide whether or not to make a claim.
All that said, despite these drawbacks and concerns about his game, Jonathan Villar would be an improvement over the current roster for the Reds at either 2B or SS. So if that’s your baseline — better than the current roster — Villar would be a solid acquisition.
But keep in mind that Jonathan Villar won’t be free. The Reds will have to pay for his final year of arbitration. And yes, the Reds have the money to spend. But ownership has surely given the front office a budget. Villar’s $10 million would come at the real opportunity cost of another acquisition. Maybe the Reds should keep looking to spend their money on an above-average player.
We’ll know soon, as the waiver process lasts 47 hours.