On Wednesday night, the Orioles made a move that shocked a lot of the Baltimore baseball community when they decided to make an outright waiver request on Jonathan Villar. My understanding is that this means the Orioles could not find a trade partner for the middle-infielder and rather than taking the chance of having to pay parts, or all, of the $10.4 million contract he is due to receive through arbitration, the team decided non-tendering Villar was the best course of action.
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Dan Connolly of The Athletic did his best to explain the situation in his most recent article, and speculated the Orioles could hope to re-sign Villar to a smaller deal if no other team puts in a waiver claim, though he thinks a simple non-tender and parting of ways is the most likely scenario. Making the former scenario possible is that any claiming team would have to go to arbitration with Villar, and there doesn’t seem to be teams champing at the bit to pay him upwards of $10 million.
In Baltimore, many fans and analysts–myself included–were left scratching their heads after the most recent turn of events.
For Villar, 2019 was an All-Star caliber campaign, even if the accolades weren’t awarded in-season. The 28-year-old switch hitter had a career year, playing in all 162 games while slashing .274/.339/.453 with 24 HR, 73 RBI, 111 runs, and 40 stolen bases (second most in the American League).
Pundits and analysts alike seemed to think tendering Villar a contract and then trading him later was the most likely scenario, and the Orioles did shop Villar at the trade deadline last season, during which time talks with the Cubs picked up some traction, but never intensified. The Orioles simply did not like what the Cubs were offering and weren’t willing to make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. All of this, of course, was before the monster second half Villar put up that could have made him an enticing trade target for fringe playoff contenders looking to be put over the top this offseason.
The question is, if the Orioles rid themselves of Villar, who do they replace him with?
Richie Martin has shed his rule V status and will almost assuredly be ticketed for Norfolk next spring. Mason McCoy is likely headed to Norfolk also, and profiles more as a utility man rather than an everyday player.
Of the Orioles’ top middle infield prospects, former first-round pick, Cadyn Grenier (almost by default) is the closest to making his big-league debut. He topped out at High-A Frederick in 2019 and ended his season on the injured list. Baltimore doesn’t have many answers for the middle of the diamond and robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t make much sense.
The Orioles could certainly do worse than a $10 million infielder with pop, on-base capabilities, and a propensity for the stolen base who plays every single day. With Villar, my position has always been that the club should take the same stance as they do with Trey Mancini. You must have recognizable players, even on a last place team. Fans who have gotten on-board with a full-scale rebuild still want a reason to come to the ballpark, and Villar is as good a reason as any.
Still, the waiver request does make sense, even if it is hard to swallow. The fact remains that Villar, while at times electric, doesn’t put this team over the top. Not when the rotation currently has four members (perhaps three if the Dylan Bundy trade rumors are true), the bullpen is as unproven as any in the game, and the lineup still features holes all over the diamond.
The Orioles are almost certainly headed for their third straight 100-loss, last-place finish, and Villar doesn’t change that. It may be difficult to fathom, but we all knew this stretch was coming. We signed up for a full-scale rebuild, and this it what that entails. In five years, we’ll probably look back on this and think, “Worth it.”
But until then, there’s no getting around it: This. Sucks.
Trust me, I get it.