Jonathan Villar was one of the Orioles’ most productive players throughout the 2018 season.
Nonetheless, general manager Mike Elias decided the versatile infielder was not part of the team’s long-term plan.
The Orioles traded Villar to the Miami Marlins in exchange for minor league left-handed pitcher Easton Lucas ahead of the Dec. 2 non-tender deadline. In addition, the Orioles tendered 2020 contracts to infielder Hanser Alberto, infielder/outfielder Trey Mancini, along with right-handed pitchers Dylan Bundy, Miguel Castro and Mychal Givens. The club agreed to a 2020 contract with lefty Richard Bleier.
Elias is embarking on Phase Two of the franchise’s massive rebuilding project, and tough decisions have to be made. Villar became a casualty of the plan, mainly because he was headed into his last year of arbitration and might have cost the team upwards of $10 million.
Elias explained moving Villar in a conference call with the Baltimore media Dec. 2.
“With a guy who’s going into his last year of arbitration with the team, facing free agency, who is set to command a large salary that he’s earned through his play and in years past, when we have an opportunity to use that playing time on other players who may be around longer, to use that payroll on other players and other objectives that fit more tightly with our strategy and get a young pitcher back that we view as a prospect, a potential future piece for the team, it’s something you have to do,” Elias said.
Still, the Orioles now have a void to fill in the middle of their infield and in the lineup.
Villar appeared in all 162 games last season and slashed .274/.339/.453. He set career-high for hits (176), home runs (24) and RBIs (73). Villar also stole 40 bases, which ranked third in MLB.
Villar had been placed on outright waivers prior to the trade.
“He was a tremendously exciting player for us all year,” Elias said. “[He] played in every single game. We’ve all seen the numbers he put up. He was a joy to have, certainly my year here, and from everything we’ve seen and heard dating back to 2018 when he came over from the Brewers.
“And he’s a fun player. He’s a switch-hitter, he runs, he plays hard, he’s a great guy and I’ve personally known him for a long time, so it was hard to let him go. But we’ve got to keep an eye on our strategic objective, which prioritizes the future right now.”
Lucas will provide more depth to the Orioles’ farm system, which surged last season due to its young pitching. He was a 14th-round pick by the Marlins from Pepperdine in 2019. He battled some injuries during his sophomore season in 2017, but bounced back for his junior and senior seasons. In 2019, he posted a 3.87 ERA, 71 strikeouts and 16 walks for the Waves.
Lucas managed a 3.98 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 12 games, including nine starts, for Short-A Batavia this past summer. He also had 40 strikeouts with nine walks in 31.2 innings.
“We like his stuff. He’s 89-92 [mph] with a fastball that has some hopping life to it. He’s got two distinct breaking balls [with] a slider and curveball that have a chance to be average pitches. I think our pitching program in particular can help him with that. And he’s got a real nice change that plays well to right-handed hitters. … I think bringing in a young pitcher like Lucas into the fold is exactly what we’re trying to do and makes sense for our future objectives.”
There were rumors that Bundy was going to be traded prior to the 8 p.m. deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players. However, the Orioles cannot afford to part with starting pitching, and perhaps there was not an attractive offer to move Bundy.
Bundy finished the 2018 season 7-14 with a 4.79 ERA in 30 starts. He had 162 strikeouts, 58 walks and a 1.35 WHIP.
“Dylan’s a really good starting pitcher, had a good year for us, a good step forward for us, and has a lot of potential,” Elias said. “He’s got four pitches, he strikes out a lot of hitters, as good a competitor as there is out there and there are a lot of teams looking for pitching right now and so he’s a popular guy in that respect. And as I’ve said all along, we have conversations about any of our players on the major league roster.”
Bleier was hampered by injuries last season. He appeared in 53 games, going 3-0 with a 5.37 ERA and a 1.319 WHIP. He also had four saves.
Givens could be a valuable trade chip next season if he is more consistent in the late innings.
The 40-man roster currently has 38 players.
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