1:50pm: The Angels have officially announced the signing, with catcher Matt Thaiss optioned to Triple-A to create space on the active roster. To create room on the 40-man roster, reliever Archie Bradley was transferred to the 60-day IL. Bradley was recently shut down for at least four weeks with an elbow fracture, after which he’ll need time to get back into game shape. He isn’t likely to return within the next couple of months, making today’s transaction largely a formality.
10:50am: MLBTR has confirmed Villar is in agreement with the club on a major league deal.
8:20am: The Angels are reportedly signing infielder Jonathan Villar, according to Hector Gomez of Z101 Digital. The team has not yet confirmed the deal nor announced any corresponding moves. The club’s 40-man roster is presently full, meaning someone will have to be subtracted in order to make room for his addition. Villar is a client of ACES.
Signed by the Cubs in the offseason to a one-year, $6MM deal, Villar has struggled this year to the point that Chicago designated him for assignment and released him last week. With around $3.4MM left to be paid out, the Cubs will be on the hook for most of the remainder of that. The Angels will pay Villar the prorated league minimum for any time he spends on the roster, with that amount being subtracted from what the Cubs pay.
For the Angels, this is a way of trying to bolster an infield mix that is in serious need of bolstering. The middle infield was arguably the team’s weakest area going into the season, with a mix that included David Fletcher, Matt Duffy, Andrew Velazquez, Tyler Wade and Luis Rengifo. Fletcher struggled through 14 games before hitting the injured list and won’t return until around the All-Star break. The season-ending injury to Anthony Rendon created a hole at third base, further stretching this infield crew to cover three positions instead of two. The depth was further depleted when Duffy landed on the injured list with back spasms. Although he’s not expected to have an extended stay on the shelf, that still left the Halos with Velazquez, Wade and Rengifo in line for everyday roles, with David MacKinnon occasionally taking some time at third base.
No one out of that group has done much to solidify the infield mix, with Velazquez, Wade, Rengifo and MacKinnon all currently a sporting a wRC+ between 36 and 92, meaning they’ve all hit at below-average rates to differing degrees. Even if Duffy can return from his IL trip in short order, he’s only hitting .261/.308/.291 for a wRC+ of 74. Due to the uninspiring results of this group, the Angels have gotten a 68 wRC+ from the second base position overall, placing them 24th out of the 30 teams in the league. At third base, it’s an 82 wRC+ for 21st place, and shortstop is even worse, as their collective 44 wRC+ is dead last in the league.
Given that dearth of production from their infielders, it makes sense that they would be willing to take a gamble on Villar. Of course, whether that gamble pays off will depend upon which version of Villar shows up, as he’s had oscillating results in recent years. 2019 was arguably the best season of his career, as he hit .274/.339/.453 for a 107 wRC+. Combined with his 40 bases stolen bases, he provided 3.9 wins above replacement that year, in the estimation of FanGraphs. He followed that up with a downswing in the shortened 2020 season, hitting just .232/.301/.292 for a 65 wRC+. Last year was a nice bounceback, as he hit .249/.322/.416 for 105 wRC+, along with 14 steals. With the Cubs this year, the pendulum has swung back the other way, as Villar’s batting line is currently .222/.271/.327 for a wRC+ of 65. The defensive metrics have also soured on his glovework, with DRS giving him a -8 at second base this year.
With the Angels sporting a record of 37-42, they are currently five games behind the Guardians for the final AL Wild Card spot, with three other clubs in between them. The trade deadline is now one month away, making the next stretch of play incredibly important for teams like the Angels that could see their deadline status quickly altered by a streak, either hot or cold. If Villar can find some of the form he showed in 2019 or 2021, even for a short amount of time, it could be a significant boost to the club’s fortunes.