As the offseason continues to progress, we’re going to continue taking a look at some potential free agency targets for the Atlanta Braves as they head into the 2021 season. This exercise isn’t limited to the big fish of the free agency pool — there’s room for some of the smaller fish in the pond as well, and we’re going to be taking a look at everybody who could even be seen as a feasible option for the Braves. That is what brings us to Jonathan Villar, as the infielder (and occasional center fielder) is currently testing the murky waters of free agency.
Who is he?
Remember when the Astros were awful? That period from 2011-2014 was a rough time for baseball in Houston. It was to the point where they were liable to end up on a baseball gif blooper reel on any given night. September 17, 2013 was one of those nights. One Astro in particular was easily thrown out at second base while nervously trying to figure if he wanted to try to stretch a single into a double. Because these were the 2013 Astros, that meant that comedic calamity was always right around the corner. So when then 22-year-old slid into second base, he got more of Brandon Phillips’ butt than he did the second base bag.
That’s how Villar came into Major League Baseball, so it’s laudable that he kept at it and didn’t just quit after that debacle.
What did he do recently?
2019 was when Villar’s stock was at its highest. That’s when he emerged as a diamond in the midst of a very rough season (per usual) for the Orioles. He played in all 162 games and hit .274/.339/.453 with 107 wRC+, an OPS+ of 109 and 24 home runs. Additionally, he added a whopping 40 stolen bases, so he was providing value on the basepaths. All of this resulted in a 4.0 fWAR season for Villar, which was his highest season in that regard since he recorded a 3.2 fWAR season for the Brewers back in 2016. He even had a game where he hit for the cycle! 2019 was wonderful for Jonathan Villar!
Clearly, Villar had some high hopes going into 2020. Things got even better when he got traded from Baltimore to Miami in a salary-shedding move from the Orioles. At the time, it was considered to be a lateral move but I think that anybody would relish an opportunity to leave the Orioles at this point in time. Those hopes for a solid follow-up season immediately evaporated as he finished 2020 with all of his numbers taking precipitous drops. His power disappeared completely — his Isolated Power dropped from .179 in 2019 to .059 and his wRC+ plummeted all the way down to 66.
Aside from the lack in production, Villar’s style of play clashed with what the Marlins wanted from him, so he ended up getting traded to the Blue Jays for Jeff Conine’s son, Griffin. His time with Toronto is where his numbers really plummeted, as he hit .188/.278/.203 with an wRC+ of 40 while he was there. His defense was also unimpressive, and all of those have resulted in Villar landing on the free agent market with a thud.
Why should the Braves sign him?
If the Braves are signing Villar, they’re going to be bringing him in for depth purposes. They’re already set for the time being with Dansby Swanson playing shortstop and Ozzie Albies at second base. Depth is legitimately the only viable reason why Villar would be putting on a Braves uniform at any point in 2021.
Why shouldn’t the Braves sign him?
You could get Jonathan Villar at a boom period in his career, where he becomes a bench threat by reaching down into his bag of tricks and bringing out the 2019 version of himself. Or you, could end up getting the version of Jonathan Villar that managed to get shipped out of town by the Marlins. At this point in his career, it’s more likely that it’s going to be the latter version rather than the former.
I’d imagine that he’s probably going to sign a one-year deal and it’s gonna be somewhere between $2-5 million. He picked a pretty bad year to not only go into free agency, but to also go into free agency on a bit of a down note after the season that he had.
If Jonathan Villar had followed up that wonderful 2019 season with another good season in 2020, then he’d be a far more attractive free agency option for a lot of teams. He also would’ve drawn a lot more attention at the trade deadline than he did, or he could’ve ended up staying with the Marlins as they embarked on an improbable run to the postseason. Instead, Villar struggled through 2020 and is now in a position where it’s possible that he could end up going back to the Orioles.
That would actually be a pretty good piece of business on Baltimore’s part — they traded Villar because they didn’t want to pay him an absolute king’s ransom of $8.2 million and they’d likely be getting him for less than that if a reunion was on the cards. If the Braves choose to pick him up and add him to their depth chart, it wouldn’t be too expensive. It would be extremely intriguing to see which version of Villar shows up when he does latch on with a team for the 2021 campaign. Either way, it’s safe to say that Villar is likely going to end up on the free agency market again once next offseason arrives.