Jonathan Villar
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

With the lack of bench production the New York Mets received last year, could the team make a considerable upgrade by signing infielder Jonathan Villar?

Thomas Hall

One of the areas of concern for the New York Mets this offseason is the lack of quality on the bench.

This past season, the Mets were, at times, frightened to rely on a player to produce off the bench. So, the Mets’ front office will need to resolve that issue this winter to prevent it from happening once again next season.

While the majority of their spending will go towards filling out the rest of their starting pitching rotation and acquiring additional help in the bullpen as well, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen will also have to find a reliable player who can enter into the game off the bench.

In a shocking move earlier this week, the Orioles surprisingly decided to place infielder Jonathan Villar on waivers. While Villar will be heading into his age-29 season in 2020, the veteran infielder has proved that he’s still capable of performing as a valuable player for next season.

This past season with the Orioles, Villar played in all 162 games and recorded 33 doubles, 24 home runs, 73 RBI, .341 BABIP, 107 wRC+, a career-high 4.0 fWAR and a respectable slashing line of .274/.339/.453/.792 as well. The 28-year-old also hasn’t lost much of a step regarding his base-stealing ability either, as Villar finished third in the AL with his 40 stolen bases, which is most he’s produced since 2016.

Given these impressive numbers from Villar, it begs the question of whether the Mets should offer him a contract this offseason. With the number of injuries the Mets sustained in 2019, it’s obvious that they could use someone like Villar, who didn’t miss a single game this past season. Villar could also provide the Mets with a player who can come off the bench and hit consistently for average. Since the only player on the Mets who came close to his .341 BABIP from this past season was outfielder Dominic Smith, who generated a .320 BABIP.

Aside from his defense, Villar seems like a perfect fit for Queens. During his first and only season with the Orioles, Villar split time between second base and shortstop. Despite committing 12 errors at shortstop and just eight at second, Villar performed extremely better on the left side of the infield in 2019.

Villar played 658 innings at shortstop this past season and the veteran created a 0 DRS, -1.4 UZR and a -3.6 UZR/150. These average defensive numbers from Villar look even greater after viewing the horrible metrics he recorded at second base during the 2019 season. The speedy infielder produced a -11 DRS, -4.6 UZR and a horrendous -11.5 UZR/150 as well.

Based on Villar’s terrible defensive numbers at second base from this past season, it would be wise for first-year manager Carlos Beltran to limit his exposure on the right side of the infield.

The only problem with signing Villar is that the Mets already have infielder Jed Lowrie on their roster, who is scheduled to make $11.5 million in 2020. Lowrie also checks a lot of the same boxes for the Mets as Villar would if he were signed.

While Lowrie missed basically the entirety of the 2019 season with multiple hamstring and calf injuries, the 35-year-old is expected to be fully healthy for the start of next season. Even with his recent health concerns, Lowrie has also been a very durable player just like Villar. Prior to this past season, Lowrie had played in at least 150 games in each of the two previous seasons.

During the 2018 season, Lowrie created a very similar performance to Villar’s from this past season. Lowrie played in 157 games with the Athletics and recorded 37 doubles, 23 home runs, 99 RBI, .304 BABIP, 123 wRC+, a career-high 5.0 fWAR along with a hitting line of .267/.353/.448/.801. While Villar has shown to hit for more average and steal significantly more bases, Lowrie has proven to perform as a better run producer and a better defender as well.

Like Villar, Lowrie is also capable of playing both second base and shortstop, along with a little bit of third base if needed as well. During the 2018 season, Lowrie produced far better defensive numbers at second base compared to Villar’s performance at second during this past season.

Lowrie was positioned at second base for 1177.1 innings during the 2018 season and generated a +1 DRS, a career-high 6.1 UZR and a 5.6 UZR/150. Despite Lowrie’s impressive performance at second base in 2018, the soon-to-be 36-year-old hasn’t played at shortstop since the 2016 season, where he played just a trio of innings for Oakland.

Since Villar and Lowrie both play similar positions, the Mets will likely only have room on their team for one of them. Given that Lowrie is already signed with the Mets, he seems like the obvious choice to win the job. But his recent health concerns could create some doubt regarding the final year of his contract.

If Van Wagenen and his staff are concerned about Lowrie’s durability through next season, they should seriously consider putting a claim in for Villar prior to Monday’s deadline.

If no team claims Villar before Monday, Dec. 2, then he will be returned to the Orioles and will likely be subject to becoming non-tenured and ultimately a free agent. Since Villar is also expected to receive a major raise this offseason, $10.4 million according to MLB Trade Rumors, the Mets will need to be 100% confident that Lowrie will spend the majority of the 2020 season on the injured list, before offering a deal to Villar.

By the conclusion of this offseason, the Mets will have hopefully made some improvements to their bench for the 2020 season. For the Mets’ infield depth to be productive next season, they’ll need either a bounce-back season from Lowrie or a strong first season from Villar.