The Orioles entered this offseason as sellers. As it turns out, however, they didn’t come with pieces to sell.
Or, put another way, no one is buying.
That’s the feeling after Jonathan Villar’s departure became official Monday, and one of the Orioles’ best players was dealt to Miami for a pretty weak return. Villar, who according to WAR was a top-15 middle infielder in the game, became a Marlin for Easton Lucas, a 23-year-old pitcher from Miami’s low-A Batavia team.
Lucas, and...that’s it.
Afraid so, and even if no one was under the impression that Villar would fetch any jewels from another team’s system, it still has to be disappointing for Mike Elias and the rest of the Orioles front office, as they were searching the league for a suitable return. After all, the whole concept of a rebuilding effort is that you trade your proven commodities, or most of them anyway. Your proven commodities become prospects that can help you later on. It’s hard to imagine Lucas, a former 14th-round pick, projects as someone who can play a big role in the team’s rejuvenation.
That’s not to fault Elias (unless you fault him for parting with Villar in the first place, which is a different topic altogether). You can only work with the offers you have, and if Lucas is the best you can get, that’s the move you make. They also cut salary, which was the driving force behind the decision to move on from the 28-year-old.
It does, however, put a damper on how this offseason could play out.
The Orioles went into the winter a team looking to move some pieces and beef up the farm system. Villar wasn’t alone; Dylan Bundy is on the market, Mychal Givens is on the market, and Trey Mancini could be dealt. Everyone’s available, or close to it.
But Villar was the best of them — at least from a value standpoint. Villar’s 4.0 WAR beats that of Mancini (3.3), Bundy (2.3) and Givens (0.6), and ranked only behind John Means’s 4.6 for the whole team. So the fact that Villar’s experience on the block included being waived, being passed over by the rest of the league and then only netting one player with one season of minor league experience is surprising.
It’d be one thing if Villar was like Hanser Alberto, a career backup quality player who suddenly emerged and had one good season with signs of it being a fluke all over the place. Villar has been a starter for four years, once led the National League in stolen bases with 62 while posting two other seasons with 35 or more, and fell one home run shy of having two seasons with 20 or more homers. Not a Hall of Fame resume, granted, but a player most teams would have start at second base in a heartbeat.
All of that netted one low-level prospect, which begs the question of what the rest of the pieces could fetch if Baltimore tries to capitalize as best it can on its top major league talent.
Of course, there are extenuating circumstances beyond the stats. The whole reason the Orioles wanted to move on from Villar was likely the reason no one else sprung to take him off their hands — he’s due to see his salary go from $4.825 million to around $10.4 million in arbitration, and that’s a condition that many teams were probably wary of, especially if you buy the notion of widespread tanking, and as hesitant as the Orioles at taking the financial hit.
Villar isn’t the only one of those trade chips in that boat, however. Mancini is going to be getting a raise, and is on track (according to MLBTradeRumors.com) to see his salary go from $575,500 to $5.7 million. He’s well short of Villar’s price tag and is a year younger, but it’s still a jump, and his struggles in the field might drive his value down in this era of advanced defensive metrics.
Bundy is on track to go from $2.8 to $5.7 million, and has seen his career stuck in neutral as he’s been unable to take the step forward fans have been waiting for since he bounced back from an injury-laden start to his career. There’s still the distinction of being the former fourth overall pick and a dominant minor leaguer back in the day, and there are other metrics that could spark some league interest, but it’s hard to see him still being the kind of commodity that can fetch an impressive prospect.
Givens will see his salary climb a more modest $1.05 million to $3.2 million, but had by far the worst year of his career last season. Other players on the team who played beyond their 2020 values last season, like Hanser Alberto and John Means, are unproven.
The Orioles’ best bet for a better return, however, is team control. Villar’s arbitration figure isn’t the only thing to consider, as he’s bound for free agency after this season. Mancini, meanwhile, is under team control for three more seasons. Bundy’s got two more to go. Those players wouldn’t be rentals, and that might make teams a little more willing to offer some better prospects.
Still, though, Monday wasn’t a promising development. A fanbase that saw some great trades the last time the team went through a rebuild will likely have to deal with some quieter hauls this time around.