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Evaluating the trade market for Orioles infielder Jonathan Villar

The 2019 trade deadline is approaching.

Cleveland Indians v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Jonathan Villar is no stranger to the trade market. The 28-year-old has been dealt three times in his professional career: from the Phillies to the Astros as part of the Roy Oswalt trade in 2010, from the Astros to the Brewers in November of 2015, and finally from the Brewers to the Orioles last summer in a swap that landed Jonathan Schoop in Milwaukee. With a little more than a week left until this summer’s trade deadline there is a high likelihood that Villar could be on the move once again.

The Orioles are just beginning a major organizational rebuild. Villar’s one remaining season of team control does not line up with the team’s planned return to relevance. However, it could prove useful to a competitor interested in adding speed and versatility to their infield.

In his major league career, Villar has played all over the diamond; second base, shortstop, third base, left field and center field. But he has settled in as a middle infielder most often. Defensive metrics do not love his work with the leather. In nearly 500 innings at second base this season, Villar has a -4.3 UZR and -8 DRS. It’s a similar story at shortstop, where in 326 innings he has a -2.7 UZR and -2 DRS. It’s a disappointment considering he was a slightly above average fielder by those same metrics just a season ago. The reason for the dip in performance seems to be a result of decreased range (1.8 RngR in 2018, -3.5 RngR so far in 2019) and increased errors (11 in 2018, 15 so far in 2019), an undesirable combination.

At the plate, Villar is in a similar place when compared to last season. His .314 wOBA, 95 wRC+ and 8.4% walk rate are all slight improvements over the numbers he put up with the Brewers and Orioles in 2018. But none of them position him as anything more than an average major league hitter.

This evaluation doesn’t sound so pleasant to this point, but we haven’t talked about baserunning yet, which is the best part of Villar’s game.

It starts with speed. Villar’s average sprint speed of 27.8 feet per second puts him in the top half of the league overall and 18th out of 67 second baseman with at least 10 opportunities this season. Unfortunately, that has not led to tons of stolen bases. Villar is 17-for-23 (73.9%) on stolen base attempts this year. For comparison, he swiped 35 bags in 40 attempts (87.5%) last season. But it has helped him provide value elsewhere on the bases. His 3.8 BsR is the best mark of his career and the 11th best rating in all of MLB. Although this season has been a struggle in many ways, Villar remains an elite baserunner.

Villar’s upcoming final year of arbitration does possibly increase the number of teams that could be interested in his services, but it still likely limits the Orioles to dealing with teams that feel they are in position to compete this season.

The San Francisco Giants are just 2.5 games out of the NL wild card, and could be on the hunt for a middle infield upgrade. As a group, their second baseman have a -0.1 fWAR and their shortstops have a 0.7 fWAR, both marks are near the bottom of the league. Familiar names like Brandon Crawford (.235/.305/.384) and Joe Panik (.233/.309/.314) have had atrocious seasons at the plate. Their saving grace has been Donovan Solano, a 31-year-old journeyman who is boasting a .324/.353/.441 batting line across 40 games with the Giants.

Across the Bay, the Oakland Athletics may also be intrigued by Villar. Currently, they are trotting out Jurickson Profar as their everyday second baseman, but his 77 wRC+ is not cutting it. Villar would be an upgrade in just about every way. The A’s are neck-and-neck with several other teams in the AL Wild Card race, so every little bit helps.

A final team to consider would be the club that traded Villar away just a season ago. The Brewers shortstop situation is dire. Orlando Arcia and Tyler Saladino are steady in the field, but offer very little at the plate. Combined, they have a -0.6 fWAR. Arcia is batting .229/.293/.382 with a 71 wRC+. Saladino is .115/.148/.173 with a -22 wRC+. Re-acquiring a player you could have kept for nothing would be a tough pill to swallow for GM David Stearns, but it could inject a little pop into a middling Brewers offense.

That brings us to the question on the mind of every Orioles fan: what sort of return can we expect for Villar?

Not to sound like a broken record, but take a look at the Schoop-for-Villar swap last summer. In addition to Villar, the Orioles also added two legitimate prospects, pitcher Luis Ortiz and infielder Jean Carmona, in exchange for a middle infielder with one more year of team control remaining. There is, of course, a difference between the players. Schoop was an all-star in 2017 and was viewed as more of a slugger type, but he also had a 91 wRC+ at the time of the deal and a 0.9 fWAR. Those numbers aren’t far off Villar’s production this season.

Villar won’t be the only middle infielder up for grabs over this next week. The Mariners may look to move Dee Gordon or Tim Beckham. The Blue Jays could trade Freddy Galvis. And the Reds may make Jose Iglesias available as well.

The point is that there are likely to be more players on the trading block than there are teams in the market. Villar is a league average player with some nice upside on the basepaths. The Orioles will surely receive calls about him, and he probably will be traded away, but don’t expect to be blown away with what they get back in return.