The Blue Jays need another infielder for 2018 as they look to increase depth behind Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis. After non-tendering Ryan Goins they acquired Aledmys Diaz via trade, but Darwin Barney has yet to be replaced.
The Blue Jays offseason has been quiet until this point. The front office is being very patient compared to last year. The only significant move has been the trade that has brought Aledmys Diaz to the Blue Jays in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. A move that provides good backup for either Troy Tulowitzki or Devon Travis.
Another name that was mentioned during the winter meetings by Jeff Blair was Jonathan Villar from the Brewers. Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair mentioned there was increased chatter between the Jays and Brewers for Villar. Here is why Villar makes a lot of sense for the Blue Jays in their search for infield depth.
The Dominican player had a bad 2017 season at the plate. His slash line was .241/.293/.372, a very poor one without a doubt. However the Jays need depth, youth, speed and athleticism, as well as versatility, with offensive upside. Jonathan Villar provides all of those. Darwin Barney became almost an everyday player for Toronto with the Tulowitzki and Travis injuries and depth proved to be key. Barney ended the season with a -0.7 WAR and even though his glove is extraordinary, his bat is very limited. Villar would be a significant upgrade over Barney.
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Speed is a weapon the Blue Jays desperately need and is one of the aims for this offseason. The 26 year old provides elite speed. In 2017 he stole 23 bases which would have lead the Blue Jays team by quite a margin. In 2016, he stole a crazy total of 62 bases which led the National League. Toronto hasn’t had this kind of player since the departure of José Reyes and it’s something they’ve lacked since. The addition of this kind of speed would be very welcomed.
Jonathan Villar can play shortstop, second and third. He has played over 2000 innings at shortstop, over 800 at second and over 400 at third. He has also played in the outfield. In 2017, he played 39 innings in centre field for the Brewers. His defense in the infield has been very decent, as he had one defensive run saved above average in 762.8 innings at second base in 2017. In 2016, where he played primarily as a shortstop for the Brewers, he had five defensive runs saved above average. However, a contradictory number is the 15 errors he committed at second this past season. He might not be a defender like Barney but he would still provide decent glove work, as shown by his defensive runs saved over the last couple of seasons.
His offensive potential is huge. In 2016, the switch hitter had a stellar campaign. Apart from the 62 stolen bases, he also hit 19 homers with a slash line of .285/.369/.457. Even though his 2017 season was terrible, he would still be a major offensive upgrade over Barney. In a down year for Villar, he still had an OPS+ of 72 compared to 57 of Darwin Barney. An OPS+ of 72 is still poor, but the main aim is to upgrade the team and that is an upgrade.
He’s also a very affordable option. In his first year eligible for arbitration, MLB Trade Rumors predicts a $3.0MM for the Dominican player in 2018. In terms of the return in a potential trade, the Brewers might ask for prospects or maybe a bullpen arm where the Jays have reasonable depth and could afford to give one in return.
Considering his youth, speed, versatility and offensive potential, Jonathan Villar makes a lot of sense for the Toronto Blue Jays. His value is also not as high as it was last year due to his down 2017 season, so if there’s a time to trade for him, it’s now. Upgrading is the aim when trading for players or signing players. In this case, Villar would be a clear upgrade over the now free agent Darwin Barney and if the Jays want to replace his figure with a younger, faster, versatile and more offensive minded player, Villar makes perfect sense for the 2018 team.