The Orioles have placed infielder Jonathan Villar on outright waivers after being unable to find a trade partner for the fleet-footed switch-hitter, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports (via Twitter). Villar’s projected $10.4MM arbitration salary apparently served as too substantial a roadblock to overcome when marketing him to other teams.
It’s an extreme cost-cutting measure for the tanking Orioles — one that frankly looks unnecessary. Even with Villar in the fold, the Orioles’ Opening Day payroll projects to come in south of $80MM, so it’s not as if there is (or should be) any real pressure to shed salary.
Beyond that is the simple fact that Villar has been a fine player in Baltimore — arguably the organization’s best in 2019. The 28-year-old batted .274/.339/.453 with 24 home runs, 33 doubles, five triples and a whopping 40 stolen bases (in 49 attempts) this past season. Defensive metrics soured on his work at second base but gave him passable marks at shortstop — and Villar does have a track record as a useful glove at second prior to the 2019 season.
Both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com valued Villar at four wins above replacement this past season. Clearly the Orioles aren’t the only team in the league that doesn’t value Villar at his current price point — hence the lack of trade interest — but there’s virtually no way off spinning this as a move that makes Baltimore a better team in 2020.
Even if the Orioles reinvest that roughly $10MM sum, there’s little reason that with their current level of financial commitment they couldn’t simply have kept Villar and spent an additional $10MM anyhow. And it’s unlikely that Villar’s eventual replacement will give them superior on-field results. It looks to be a move designed to lose more games next season, and it’s surely a tough blow for a fanbase that has had few quality performances to cheer over the past couple of seasons.
Villar will be available for any club to claim at this point, though the new team would be on the hook for the same projected salary in arbitration. If he goes unclaimed, he’ll surely opt for free agency, at which point he’ll be able to sign with any team for any amount. Given the lack of trade interest in Villar, it’s certainly possible that he will indeed pass through waivers, but he should draw plenty of interest on Major League deals — perhaps even a two-year pact at a lower annual rate. For the Orioles, meanwhile, the optics of letting him go for no return aren’t great, and the move will be tough to sell to the fans.