The Chicago Cubs are reportedly inking a deal with utility man, and speed switch-hitter, Jonathan Villar. This is a fine signing. Sensible, even! I feel like I have to say that up front, because I anticipate a lot of the focus will be on who this signing isn’t.
I guess I’ll dispense with that part: yeah, this ends the Carlos Correa stuff.
Not unlike the Andrelton Simmons signing, you wouldn’t say that the Cubs now signing Jonathan Villar blocks the Cubs from signing a guy like Carlos Correa. They are just entirely different tiers of financial commitment. If you can get Correa and want Correa for the long-term, then there’s really not much on the roster that could or should stop that.
Instead, the reason the Villar signing does have a relationship to any Correa pursuit – like the Simmons signing – is because it further signals that the Cubs don’t feel like they have a real shot at Correa. That’s been my sense since Monday, when Astros ownership got more directly involved in the negotiations, but even as recently as last night, local writers weren’t closing the door entirely on Correa and the Cubs. I think now we can close it.
But Villar! He’s good!
Here’s what I wrote about him back when he popped up as a possible Cubs target earlier in the offseason:
When we went through the list of possible shortstop defenders the Cubs could sign, I noted that Jonathan Villar, 30, was the only free agent shortstop (non-Correa edition) who rated as above-average defensively at shortstop in all three of the most common advanced defensive metrics in 2021 (DRS, OAA, UZR/150). He was only slightly above-average in each, though, and in a very small sample. Historically, he’s rated as something closer to league average or slightly below.
You do love the versatility, though, and having a league-average switch-hitting bat is a big plus. And he’s got speed. Among the options for the Cubs, I’ve come to think of Villar as something near the top (though a costs-nothing trade for Nick Ahmed is probably still at the top for me). Villar just feels like one of those guys that any team could use in some role or another.
Villar is just one of those guys who does so many things well enough that you love having him on your roster (and, if you’re the Cubs and you fall out of it in July, Villar is a guy that basically any contender in the trade market could use … ).
Villar has been almost an exactly league average bat throughout his career (.258/.326/.403, 97 wRC+). He steals bases. He has good pop. He can play anywhere in the infield, and has played a little bit of the outfield, too.
As it relates to the Cubs, what’s most notable is that while he is split neutral overall as a switch-hitter, he gets his numbers in different ways from the right and left. From the left side, he has more power. That, of course, is what the Cubs need. (That was swapped last year, though, for what it’s worth.)
Something I will have to dig into soon: the Cubs now have something of an overload of “big league” position players. No, they aren’t the Dodgers, with a stud at every position. I’m just talking about the volume of guys who are “yeah, he should be on the big league roster” types. Is this Villar signing a precursor to some other move? A mere acknowledgement that some other move might happen?
We’ll see. I think follow-up trades are possible, but it’s at least as likely that the Cubs are simply doing what they’ve said they would do: find good value. Villar is simply a solid player who can help the Cubs try to compete in the first half, and, in the (likely?) event that they find themselves selling again in July, maybe he’s of wide interest around the league. Moreover, it’s not like we can ASSUME that everyone in the current infield mix for the Cubs is going to be great (or even playable) in 2022, especially given the limited track records. So bring in another capable big leaguer, and then let the chips fall over the first few months.
UPDATE: This is just a straight up bargain:
Jonathan Villar’s deal with the Cubs is for one year and $6M, per source. The deal also includes a mutual option for 2023 as well as performance bonuses.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) March 17, 2022
The mutual option, presumably, is just one of those situations where you’re kicking some of the cash down the road (or the order of operations makes the buyout not guaranteed). In any case, the main point is: getting Villar on a cheap one-year deal is kinda blowing my mind. That’s why you do it if you’re the Cubs: it’s just a good value. Period.