After the 2016 season, it appeared as though Jonathan Villar had made himself a pillar of Milwaukee’s rebuilding efforts, one of the players who would emerge as an integral member of the Brewers’ next contending team. The Brewers acquired Villar in a minor trade with Houston, and Craig Counsell inserted him into the everyday shortstop role and was repaid with a .285/.369/.457 slash (119 wRC+) across 679 plate appearances with 19 home runs and a league-leading 62 stolen bases. Though he rebuffed Milwaukee’s reported $20 mil extension offer, Villar looked like he would be one of the most important pieces in Counsell’s lineup for the next several seasons even as he shifted from shortstop to second base to make room for Orlando Arcia.
As it turned out, the “next contending team” happened to be the 2017 iteration of the Milwaukee Nine but Villar was not one of the reasons why. He got off to a slow start after missing most of Spring Training to participate in the World Baseball Classic, and then suffered a pretty severe back injury in June. After three weeks on the disabled list, Villar returned to action but never really got going with the bat. He wound up ceding time to Eric Sogard and later Neil Walker as Milwaukee charged toward the playoffs and ultimately fell one game short of a postseason berth. Villar appeared in only 122 games and took 436 trips to the plate in 2017, turning in a putrid .241/.293/.372 slash (71 wRC+) with 11 home runs and 23 steals. His strikeout rate jumped almost five points while his walk rate was nearly halved.
There were some rumblings about a possible non-tender after the season, though that talk was downplayed by David Stearns when it was announced that the Brewers would tender Villar an arbitration contract for 2018. Still, both Stearns and Counsell have mentioned second base as a position that the Brewers may pursue an upgrade at before the 2018 season begins. According to a recent report, that may mean that the Brewers are looking to deal Villar on the heels of his poor performance in 2017.
According to Ben Nicholson-Smith, who covers the Blue Jays for Sportsnet.ca, the Brewers have made Villar “available in trade talks” this offseason. Nicholson-Smith and his Sportsnet colleague Jeff Blair have alluded to possible interest from the Blue Jays in Villar’s services, though Nicholson-Smith notes within his piece that there is a plethora of second sackers available in free agency and on the trade market. The Mets are another team in search of help at the keystone, though Mike Puma of the New York Post recently wrote that team officials don’t view Villar as a “serious possibility.” Now that the Angels have brought in Ian Kinsler, they seem unlikely to be suitors.
Dealing Villar now would obviously be selling low on a player who has shown the potential to be a star, but if the Brewers do indeed sign or trade for another second baseman then it may necessitate another move being made. Not only is Villar (who is out of options) on the roster, but so are Eric Sogard and Hernan Perez as players capable of manning second base and out of minor league options. The fact that first base-only slugger Jesus Aguilar is also out of minor league options only further adds to the potential roster crunch on the bench.
Villar, who will turn 27 next May, is projected to earn $3 mil this coming season in his first year of arbitration eligibility and doesn’t qualify for free agency until after the 2020 season. In addition to second base, he also has experience at shortstop, third base, and has dabbled in the outfield.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs