Infielder Jonathan Villar, perhaps the most productive Orioles position player in 2019, has been placed on outright waivers ahead of Monday’s nontender deadline for arbitration-eligible players, according to multiple reports.
Villar, 28, was due to be a free agent after the 2020 campaign, with MLB Trade Rumors projecting him to make $10.4 million in his final season of arbitration eligibility. The switch-hitting Villar played second base and shortstop for Baltimore, hitting .274/.339/.453 with 24 home runs and 40 steals as he joined Manny Machado as the only Orioles with a 20-20 season since 1999.
Unless another team claims him, Villar will have the option to elect free agency and sign with any team, a route he surely would take. The eight-figure salary projection would’ve made Villar the third-highest paid Oriole in 2020 behind first baseman Chris Davis and right-hander Alex Cobb, both of whom signed multi-year deals with Baltimore after reaching free agency.
Had the Orioles elected to tender Villar a contract by Monday’s deadline, they could have continued to try to trade him throughout the offseason and again ahead of July’s trade deadline. Instead, a player that led the Orioles’ position players in wins above replacement will be on the open market without Baltimore getting any return outside of salary relief.
The Orioles acquired Villar from the Milwaukee Brewers along with right-hander Luis Ortiz and minor league infielder Jean Carmona for second baseman Jonathan Schoop at the 2018 trade deadline. In a year and a half with Baltimore, Villar hit .270/.338/.438 with 32 home runs and 61 steals in 216 games. On Aug. 5, he hit for the cycle, the first time an Oriole had done so since 2009, and on Sept. 11, he hit the 6,106th home run of the 2019 season, setting a new record for Major League Baseball. Villar was one of five players to play in all 162 of their teams’ games.
Without Villar, the Orioles’ internal middle infield options are Hanser Alberto, Richie Martin and Stevie Wilkerson. There were several infielders among the 12 players Baltimore signed to minor league deals Tuesday, including José Rondón, who played in one game for the Orioles in 2019, but the system as a whole lacks major league-ready infielders.
Villar is not the Orioles’ lone arbitration-eligible player entering Monday’s deadline. Alberto, outfielder Trey Mancini, starting pitcher Dylan Bundy and relievers Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier are all up for arbitration. MLB.com reported Wednesday that the Orioles are exploring the possibility of trading Bundy as executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias strives to add talent to a budding farm system, though that opportunity seems to never fully have come to fruition with Villar.
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MASNsports.com was first to report that Villar had been placed on waivers.