6:57pm: Villanueva could earn something in the neighborhood of $3MM if he reaches the incentives in his deal, Lin tweets.
5:26pm: The Padres will sell the contract rights to third baseman Christian Villanueva to Japan’s Yomiuri Giants, per Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin of The Athletic (Twitter links).* Villanueva would need to agree to sign a contract with his new team; whether he has yet done so is not immediately clear.
Villanueva earned his first full shot at the majors in 2018 and certainly held his own. He finished with an overall batting line that sat just over league-average and hit twenty long balls in 384 plate appearances. Villanueva also graded as an average defender at the hot corner (DRS gave him positive marks; UZR did not).
Clearly, though, the Friars and other MLB outfits were not optimistic about his future. That’s a bit surprising at first glance. Villanueva has generally produced strong numbers in the minors. And though his 27.1% strikeout rate was a bit hefty, that’s hardly an astronomical rate in this league environment. He wasn’t reliant on BABIP (.276) to post the numbers he did. And Villanueva is also still only 27 years of age.
On the other hand, Villanueva was not able to reach the .300 mark in on-base percentage. And he failed to produce much at all with the bat after sprinting out of the gates in the first month of the season. Plus, Villanueva struggled badly against right-handed pitching all year long. (That does indicate that he was correspondingly excellent against southpaws, against whom he maintained a rather robust .336/.392/.726 batting line in 125 plate appearances.)
It would stand to reason that the Padres would have preferred to recoup talent via trade had that been an option. That it wasn’t suggests that there wasn’t much interest. From the player’s perspective, this move is a potential win, even if it is disappointing not to stay in the majors. Villanueva will likely have a shot to earn quite a bit more than the league-minimum salary, to say nothing of what he’d make in the minors. And there’s always still the possibility of staging a return.
*The original version of this post stated the Villanueva was headed to the Hanshin Tigers. Per Rosenthal’s correction of his initial report, the Japanese team involved is the Yomiuri Giants.