The Brewers originally had nine players eligible for arbitration this winter, up from eight a year ago, but the Brewers already took care of a couple of those cases by signing Chase Anderson to a multi-year contract and outrighting Carlos Torres off the roster.
As we get closer to the deadline, we'll take a look at the cases for each of the seven remaining players to see whether the Brewers should go forward in the arbitration process with them, or cut them loose now. Today it's one of the most-maligned players from the past season looking to regain the success he had two years ago.
2B Jonathan Villar
2017 Salary: $554k
2018 Projection (via MLB Trade Rumors): $3.0 million
Difference: +$2.446 million
The 2017 Milwaukee Brewers had plenty of players break out, leading the team to unexpected success. You're going to want to make sure you're sitting down for this kind of revelation, but Jonathan Villar was not one of them.
After what appeared to be a star-making season in 2016, Villar struggled to play at replacement level this past year, hitting just .241/.293/.372 in 122 games and struggling defensively, leading to a -0.5 fWAR/0.1 bWAR/0.9 WARP. He looked totally lost at the plate and eventually ceded playing time to another long-time replacement level player in Eric Sogard. He appeared to find something during a hot stretch in August, but saw his playing time almost completely evaporate with the addition of Neil Walker.
The Case for Tendering
We know what Villar is capable of when everything is clicking, and that's a borderline star that can bring a jolt of energy to the top of the lineup. He hit .285/.369/.457 in 156 games in 2016, with 19 home runs, 38 doubles and 3 triples before the balls were modified to the point where Scooter Gennett could hit 27 home runs. Villar also stole a league-leading 62 bases, and while he was caught stealing 18 times, his aggressive nature on the basepaths helped far more than it hurt the Brewers that year.
Is that possibly Villar's career year, never to be matched? Sure. But even if his true production level is somewhere between that year and this year, that's still a valuable middle infielder to have on your roster. Since he's been around the big leagues for parts of 5 seasons, it's easy to forget he's still only going to be 27 years old next year. As he enters his prime years, there's still hope that he can get close to that 2016 level.
The Case for Non-Tendering
He was really, really, really bad in 2017, to the point where it almost looked like he forgot how to play. At times, he was straight-up guessing with the bat in his hands, and when he tried to make up for it in the field, he had a tendency of maybe trying *too* hard, rushing through plays and ending up with an error.
As good as he was in 2016, he made himself incredibly replaceable in 2017 -- and the Brewers did indeed replace him a couple of times. First it was Sogard, and then when he got hurt and cooled off, the team eventually traded for Walker. Hernan Perez also got 16 starts at second base. With Perez a good bet to come back next year and Sogard also already signing an extension, Villar could again struggle to find consistent playing time, and he's been someone who has needed consistent at-bats to get going throughout his career. If the at-bats aren't there next year, it's fair to wonder how effective he could really be in a part-time role for a full season. Since he's out of options, it's not even like the Brewers could send him to Colorado Springs for consistent playing time.
What Should Happen?
Plenty of people are going to struggle with the idea of Villar getting a roughly $2.5 million raise after the year he had, but it's important to remember first-year arbitration guys almost always get a big bump in pay. That first year of arbitration is more about making up for being underpaid for the previous three years than anything, and if you were to average Villar's 2016 and 2017 seasons, you'd still get more value than $3 million would get you on the open free agent market.
At that price, even if Villar ends up being a utility player, he's probably still worth keeping around for at least another year. He's shown enough promise that even if the Brewers were to cut him loose, another team would likely snatch him up fairly quickly. With Neil Walker expected to get a free agent deal beyond what the Brewers would be comfortable paying, bringing Villar back while hoping for a bounceback in 2018 seems likely -- although it wouldn't be a surprise to see David Stearns add another contingency plan in case Villar is beyond repair.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference
Should the Brewers tender or non-tender Jonathan Villar?
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