The Cubs announced Friday that they’ve designated infielder Jonathan Villar for assignment in order to clear a spot on the active and 40-man roster for fellow infielder David Bote, who has been reinstated from the 60-day injured list.
Villar, 31, signed a one-year, $6MM contract with the Cubs this winter on the heels of a solid showing with the Mets. The versatile switch-hitter produced a .249/.322/.416 batting line in Queens last year (105 wRC+) and carried a .259/.327/.408 overall batting line from 2018-21. However, the 2022 season in Chicago hasn’t gone well at all, as Villar has limped to a career-worst .222/.271/.327 output through his first 166 plate appearances.
Villar’s struggles at the plate stem from a sudden downturn in his ability to do much of anything against fastballs. He entered the 2022 season as a career .251 hitter against fastballs, but he’s seen 231 fastballs this season and posted a disastrous .119/.174/.119 batting line in his 46 plate appearances that have ended with a heater. There’s perhaps some poor luck from a BABIP standpoint (.217), but Villar has also whiffed in 43.5% of those plate appearances and posted a career-worst 18.2% swinging-strike rate against fastballs — so the poor showing can’t be blamed entirely on small samples and batted-ball luck.
The Cubs have used Villar at second base (225 innings), third base (95 innings) and shortstop (17 innings) this season, but defensive metrics are down on him at all three spots. Villar has never rated well as a shortstop, so it’s not a surprise to see sparse usage and poor ratings there. However, he’s generally been a solid enough defender at second base — at least until the 2022 season. In this year’s 225 frames, he’s posted a staggering -7 Defensive Runs Saved mark and received a similarly damning grade from Statcast’s Outs Above Average (-5).
By designating Villar for assignment, the Cubs are effectively eating the roughly $3.4MM of his contract that has yet to be paid out. They’ll remain on the hook for that money unless another team claims Villar off waivers or acquires him in a trade — both of which seem quite unlikely, given the veteran’s struggles at the plate this year. The likeliest outcome is that Villar will be released and become a free agent. At that point, any of the league’s other 29 teams can sign him and owe him only the prorated league minimum for any time spent on their Major League roster. That sum would be subtracted from what the Cubs owe Villar.
Bote, 29, returns to the Cubs after missing the entire season to date while recovering from November shoulder surgery. The infielder separated his shoulder during a game last May, and while the injury didn’t immediately require surgery, it clearly hampered Bote at the plate. In 327 plate appearances, Bote posted a career-worst .199/.276/.330 batting line. The surgery originally came with a projected six-month recovery period, but Bote’s return comes closer to eight months out from the date of the procedure.
It’s been a rough couple of seasons for Bote, who back in 2019 signed a surprising five-year extension that came with a $16MM guarantee. It was something of a head-scratching move for the Cubs even at the time, as Bote was a part-time player who’d posted a .239/.319/.408 batting line as a rookie in 2018. The first year of the contract certainly made it look like a sound investment, as Bote slashed at a .257/.362/.422 rate and was an underrated contributor on a Cubs team that was in contention for much of the year. He’s hit just .200/.285/.353 in 472 plate appearances since that time, however, although the shoulder injury certainly offers some explanation for last year’s struggles, at least.
The Cubs owe Bote $2.5MM this season and will pay him salaries of $4MM and $5.5MM in 2023 and 2024. They also hold a pair of options, the first valued at $7MM and the second at $7.6MM.