Is Jonathan Villar going to slip into shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds?


When Freddy Galvis reached the free agency at the end of the shortened 2020 season, he left Cincinnati Reds in a cucumber in the shortstop position. Jose Garcia was still in the house but had big problems with his first impression of the big leagues and could certainly use more spices on the minors. Fortunately for the Reds, however, the opportunities to find a new 6 were more numerous than ever.

Since then, Francisco Lindor has gained a foothold in the retail market. Ha-Seong Kim came to the States from South Korea and his great talent earned him a five-year contract. Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien, and Andrelton Simmons moved their all-star talents to new homes while the Elvis Andrus era in Texas finally closed with a deal to send him to Oakland. Heck, even the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles found their shortstop for the year and signed Galvis himself after sending Jose Iglesias – another shortstop on the move – to the Los Angeles Angels earlier in winter.

Lots of short stops, lots of different responses to the position, but on February 6, Garcia remains the Cincinnati Reds’ most talented in-house option – no longer having a minor league career than A + Daytona. Kyle Farmer is around (again) after he wasn’t advertised by the Reds earlier this winter. Kyle Holder, a former rule 5 draft pick who didn’t play past AA at age 26, is now on the list too. But with options nearly exhausted, the Reds seem to have their eyes fixed on a player who has spent most of his time as 2B for the past two seasons.

That would be Jonathan Villar, formerly from Toronto, Baltimore, Miami, Milwaukee and Houston. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman said on Saturday, repeating an earlier report, that the Reds and Villar are getting closer to a deal.

While there’s no deal yet, the Reds are pretty well the only shortstop opening out there right now. So it’s not as if there will be enough applicants elsewhere for the big league money for Villar. However, this assumes that he is even a shortstop in the eyes of the clubs in the league right now, as he was mostly a 2B for each of the last three clubs that hired him.

That he is still available at this point in time – maybe even with a contact with a small league, when Bobby Nightengale was forwarded by the Enquirer – is proof of how tough his 2020 campaign was. Split between Miami and Toronto, he scored only an OPS of 593 (64 OPS +) in 207 PA, coupled with below average overall defense to be a net-negative player from both fWAR and bWAR. It was far from an otherwise absolutely solid campaign in 2019, in which he scored a 0.792 OPS (109 OPS +) and 4.1 fWAR / 3.9 bWAR by far the most valuable season of his 8-year career .

2019 is of course Villar’s advantage, and a 2016 campaign with Milwaukee matched that level of work as well. However, it was the inconsistency in between that bolstered Villar’s overall worth and made him a die roll at this point in his career. He may still have a rebound in him – after all, he is only 29 years old by May – but the slump in production throughout the rest of his career leaves few guarantees.

That’s probably the Villar news in a vacuum. He’s a player who goes cheap and has a certain upward trend. With a good chance he’s not the best shortstop on a squad full of not great options at shortstop. From a slightly larger perspective, however, the optics are much more frustrating.

This is a player from the Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins I’ve moved away from the last two years, and Baltimore even replaced him with Jose Iglesias and Freddy Galvis. You will remember that Iglesias and Galvis made the most recent iterations of the post-zack Cozart revolving door briefly for the Reds, which brings the Red and Orioles partners to this weird Iglesias / Galvis / Villar dance in case the deal goes on comes about . Not only is this not sounding endorsement of efforts to improve its position in Cincinnati, but it falls far short of the “prioritization of the shortstop position” that, in theory, was the Reds MO when the off-season began.

Villar could well end up as Red. He really could. But making it the regular shortstop at this point means the Reds either tried and failed to land a bigger fish, or just didn’t try at all. It’s been such a decade for the Reds, however, so I’m not sure why this particular development should surprise any of us.