The Orioles made it official on Monday night that Jonathan Villar will not be on the 2020 team. They did not end up non-tendering him ahead of the 8pm deadline after all, but they did swing him in a trade that looks like a glorified salary dump. They received minor league lefty Easton Lucas, a 14th round pick in June’s draft, from the Marlins.
Villar being traded did not come as a surprise if only because of the news just before Thanksgiving that the Orioles had put him on waivers after trying and failing to find a trading partner until tonight.
The message relayed through team mouthpieces has been clear especially over the last week: The Orioles don’t want to be paying Villar the $10.4 million he’d been projected to earn in his final year of arbitration while they head towards losing 100+ games again. Whether or how this money will be reinvested into the team in order to bring about future success is less clear.
The cold logic that lies behind moves like this, that it’s better not to flush away MLB payroll money on a team that will continue to be a loser next year, is tough to challenge. For most people, the presence or absence of Villar is not going to do much to change how many Orioles games they watch or attend next season.
Still, this is a bummer for me. It’s a little better than if they had just straight up non-tendered Villar, as it looked like they might do. Only so much, though, because the 23-year-old Lucas hasn’t pitched above the short-season level. He struck out 40 batters in 31.2 innings for the short-season Batavia Muckdogs, the same level as the Orioles Aberdeen affiliate. It’s better than if he had pitched poorly for Batavia, but he’s a long way from MLB and he’s already old for a prospect.
Villar didn’t end up being worth more than that because teams who are skeptical that he will be able to repeat his 4.0 bWAR season, with a .274/.339/.453 batting line and 40 stolen bases in 49 attempts, weren’t willing to make a $10 million bet on him.
Those teams, including the Orioles, might not be wrong. Villar’s only had two seasons in his career where he topped 1.5 bWAR. Much as this move is tough to swallow for an O’s fan, Villar could be due for some regression. After all, it was his disappointing performance early in 2018 that led him to be available to the Orioles in the Jonathan Schoop trade to the Brewers in the first place.
In a conference call with Orioles reporters after making these moves, Elias said the team had scouted Lucas before the draft:
The Orioles scouted Easton Lucas heavily leading up to the draft, Elias said, but weren't able to get him. Elias said he profiles as a starter, 89-92 mph "hopping" fastball.— Nathan Ruiz (@NathanSRuiz) December 3, 2019
The six arbitration-eligible Orioles who did receive 2020 contracts: Hanser Alberto, Richard Bleier, Dylan Bundy, Miguel Castro, Mychal Givens, Trey Mancini. The O’s and Bleier agreed on a 2020 salary earlier on Wednesday. Bleier will make $915,000 next season; he had been projected by MLBTR for $1.1 million, so there’s another $185,000 in the bank for whatever.
The other five and the O’s have more negotiating to do, unless one or more of these players is traded between now and next February, when salary arbitration hearings will be held. The projections for the remaining five players:
- Hanser Alberto - $1.9 million
- Dylan Bundy - $5.7 million
- Miguel Castro - $1.2 million
- Mychal Givens - $3.2 million
- Trey Mancini - $5.7 million
Another of Wednesday’s late rumors is that the team is working to trade Bundy. Nothing has ended up coming together before this non-tender deadline, but perhaps the stage has been set for a deal during the annual baseball winter meeting next week. Bundy is heading into his second year of arbitration, meaning he will not be a free agent until 2021, unless he’s the guy the team chooses to non-tender or trade for a very low-level prospect next year.