Would the Orioles actually non-tender Villar?
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com came out with his annual projected arbitration numbers for this upcoming offseason. This list is usually referenced by many national writers as a good barometer of what to expect to see the arbitration eligible players make. He isn’t always right on what they make but he is usually in the ballpark for each player.
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Among the Orioles arbitration eligible players in Jonathan Villar. Villar is coming off a 4 WAR season, that saw him have a slash line of 274/339/453/792. His wRC+ was 107 and his wOBA was 335. He played average-ish defense at SS and slightly below average at second (according to UZR and UZR/150). All in all, I wouldn’t call his defense a strength but I wouldn’t say it’s a real weakness either. His ability to play both middle infield positions at a level that doesn’t hurt is valuable. Add to that, the 40 steals and a success rate over 80% and you have a pretty good all-around player, who is still only 28 years old. He was top 10 in WAR for both second baseman and SS. Because of his strong season, MLBTR is predicting him to make $10.4M in 2020. Personally, I feel that number is a bit high and I see him more in the range of $8-9M but for arguments sake, let’s just say Dierkes is right and he will be more in that $10M range.
Today, we have seen articles from two of the local Orioles beat writers (Melewski and Meoli) where they are at least mentioning the possibility of him being non-tendered. To me, this makes absolutely no sense on many levels.
First of all, I am of the belief that the Orioles could have traded him in July. Perhaps the return wasn’t great and maybe all they could get was something similar to the Cashner trade but if that is the case and if you didn’t want to pay him, why not take whatever you can get for him then? That tells me that they were already prepared to go into 2020 with Villar on the team. Either that or they had already been told by ownership that they can eat some money on his 2020 deal to make it easier to deal him. By doing that, they gambled that he would finish off the season well and then deal him in the offseason. Either way, not trading him was a signal to me that they were okay with keeping him.
Secondly, I don’t want to hear about the Orioles crying poor. From 2014-2018, the Orioles spent between $112 and $180M on their year-end payroll. Their Opening Day payroll in those seasons were between $107-165M. In the 3 years prior to that, the payroll was in the $85-95M range. The 2019 payroll was $80M, the lowest we have seen since 2010. If the arbitration numbers are right and the Orioles keep all 7 players (which they won’t IMO), that is about $28M. Combine that with what Cobb and Davis will get paid in 2020 (salary -deferred money) and you are at about $54.5M for 9 players. As of now, the rest of the roster will be made up of guys making roughly $600K. For the rest of the team, you are talking about spending less than $20M. Will the Orioles have 17 players making around the league minimum? Probably not. You figure they add in a few vets making some mid-level contracts but, like I said, I also don’t see them tendering all 7 of those guys a contract. Bleier and Castro seem to be goners and I am not convinced they don’t trade some other guys. Either way, the payroll isn’t an issue in terms of worrying about the money Villar is making. $10M for him, after the season he just had, is peanuts. The reality is that he probably isn’t a 4-win player but he should still be worth $10M or more for the next few seasons. Going back to the Cashner deal, if that is all you can get for him, that is certainly far better than a non-tender. At least you end up with some lottery tickets that could become something for your organization.
Another thing to consider is the idea that if you can’t trade him, that putting out someone who can actually play the position(s) is the way to go. The Orioles can use Hanser Alberto at second and see what he can do for another full season. But at SS, you have nothing. They tried out Richie Martin and while he flashed some talent here and there, he clearly isn’t ready (despite improvement during the year) and it is quite likely he’s never going to be someone you want to rely on.
The Orioles 2020 won’t be a good team next year but I do feel you will see improvement; and if you can’t get value for him, you keep him just so you have a better product on the field. Obviously, if you trade him, that likely makes you worse in the middle infield but it frees up money to allow you to do some other things, perhaps taking on a contract in order to get a better SS (for example). The goal for next year should be to be a better team. I’m agreed with anyone who would argue Villar doesn’t have to be on it for the team to be better. Still, I would rather him be out there for $10M than him essentially cut for nothing.
Beyond that, you have nothing in the minors to come up and help you in the MI, especially at SS. Furthermore, there is very little available in free agency and what is available, you likely have to pay up for anyway. Perhaps you can get Starlin Castro (who is really a 2nd baseman, not SS) cheap and see if he can jump start his career out of the pitcher’s park in Miami but outside of that, the options are either expensive or just not good.
The lack of options doesn’t mean I think they should keep Villar. It’s quite the opposite, I think they have to trade him. I can’t imagine his value being any higher than it is right now. But trading him for value and letting him go for free are two different things. If you are choosing between the two, you keep him and hope he continues to play well and then look to move him in July. In fact, the lack of good options in the middle infield is a big reason as to why he should be able to be dealt.
Mike Elias is a smart guy who seems to understand value, so I don’t think the idea of non-tendering him is on the table. On top of that, even if ownership wants his salary off the team, I think Elias’ voice carries enough weight to where he can tell the Angelos brothers that we can’t let him go for free. Saying that, it’s now three local beat writers (MASN’s Roch Kubakto being the other) who have mentioned the idea of non-tendering Villar. That does make me worry that they have people in the organization whispering in their ears that it is possible that this happens. If it does, it would be an incredibly poor move with zero justification behind it.
A former co-host of Sports Tonight with Rob & Chris on BSL Radio, Rob has interviewed guests from outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, FOX Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Athlon, Sporting News, MLB Network, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Info Solutions, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Sports on Earth, Grantland, NFL Network, FanGraphs, Football Outsiders, ProFootballFocus, etc. etc. The Baltimore native lives in Perry Hall with his Wife Lindsay, and two young sons. He has appeared as a guest on 105.7 The Fan, Q1370, and WNST 1570.