Had the 2019 Orioles been without the everyday presence of infielder Jonathan Villar, their season might’ve been even more difficult to watch. His four wins above replacement this past season and consistent presence far outweighed his occasional lapses in focus and overaggression.
And yet, the salary arbitration projections released by MLB Trade Rumors on Wednesday indicate his quest to repeat a 162-game season in 2020 won’t happen with the Orioles.
Villar, who is in his final year of arbitration eligibility at age 28, is projected by the site’s system to earn $10.4 million through arbitration in 2020 — the 10th-highest number for an arbitration-eligible position player on the site’s projections.
The other nine are Boston Red Sox outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. ($27.7 million and $11 million, respectively), Houston Astros outfielder George Springer ($21.4 million), Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant ($18.5 million), Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor ($16.7 million), Oakland Athletics infielder Marcus Semien ($13.5 million), Philadelphia Phillies infielder Cesar Hernandez ($11.8 million), Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger ($11.6 million) and Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story ($11.5 million). All are on teams with far more significant aspirations for 2020 than the Orioles have and are the types of teams that pay players that much money.
All indications are that the Orioles won’t be much different from 2019, when they got by with waiver claims and focused on the farm, under the auspices of improving the overall talent base in the organization.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said this team wasn’t going to be in the business of improving through free agency, even with modest investments. He’s indicated top hitting prospect Ryan Mountcastle might not start the 2020 season in the majors and said Chris Davis will be with the Orioles in spring training.
That’s more of the same in a lot of ways, and in 2019, the Orioles also made it a point to not devote much money that wasn’t already committed to the major league roster, instead using those resources to build up the scouting and player development infrastructure.
None of that totally prohibits Villar from suiting up for the Orioles in 2020. It just creates a team, and a set of circumstances, that don’t really lend itself to a $10.4 million infielder, even if he’s one who, along with Trey Mancini and Hanser Alberto, was as consistent as anyone on the team this summer.
This isn’t even the place where Villar’s early-season base-running blunders and defensive lapses, both of which were largely corrected as the season went on, are reasons why he shouldn’t be on the 2020 Orioles. Villar seemed to take a quiet trade deadline as a bit of a wake-up call and was much more on point the last two months of the season.
It just seems like the way the Orioles will operate. They had an $86.8 million payroll this year, with a large portion of that going to veterans Chris Davis ($23 million), Alex Cobb ($14 million) and Mark Trumbo ($13.5 million), though each has deferred money in there.
Trumbo’s contract is up, Davis will likely be back in a similar bench role (made easy by the rule adding a 26th player for 2020), and Cobb will be back for a trade showcase once he’s recovered from hip and knee surgeries.
Still, those are three players who were owed over $50 million, and none was a significant part of this 108-loss season. They’d be back around that $86 million figure with Cobb, Davis and arbitration raises, plus their league-minimum players. And there’s no way the Orioles are going to lose 100-plus games for that much money a third straight year.
Villar is one of seven Orioles eligible for salary arbitration, including Mancini (projected $5.7 million, per MLBTR), Mychal Givens ($3.2 million), Dylan Bundy ($5.7 million), Alberto ($1.9 million), Miguel Castro ($1.2 million) and Richard Bleier ($1.1 million). That’s a total of $29.2 million, including $17.1 million in raises.
Villar’s raise isn’t the only one that will likely give the Orioles pause. And this time last year, they didn’t tender contracts to Caleb Joseph and Tim Beckham over modest raises. They were replaced by waiver claims and Rule 5 draft picks, so it’s been done before.
Not tendering Villar a contract would be ill-advised, considering he’s one of the few major league assets the team has. But he can be traded before that. He can also be traded after he’s tendered a contract, with the new team assuming his arbitration process, or he can be cut in spring training for only a portion of his salary.
It’s not like there’s a homegrown infield prospect ready to take over if Villar is gone, either. It’s the thinnest spot in the farm system. It’s also not really a concern for a front office that’s looking to the future, and that’s bad news for Villar in 2020.
Partnership with K-Vest: The Orioles entered into a player development partnership with K-Motion, naming the maker of the popular K-Vest motion tracking system their official 3D motion data technology.
The systems were used on the Orioles’ farm this year to track movements and swing data, and process information that’s easy for players and coaches to utilize.
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“Our partnership with K-Motion allows us to quickly build a smarter, more efficient foundation for our player development programs,” assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal said in a statement. “From Single-A all the way to the majors, we expect K-Motion Baseball to accelerate our goal of creating the sustainable, long-term success that will bring a World Series title back to the city of Baltimore.”