NEW YORK -- Throughout the past decade, the Mets have often invested relatively little in their bench, leaving them exposed to injuries and other maladies.
Not so this year. Having recently agreed to terms with veteran outfielder Albert Almora Jr., the Mets on Thursday completed a similar Major League agreement with utility man Jonathan Villar, announcing their one-year deal with the 29-year-old switch-hitter. Along with Villar's deal -- worth $3.55 million plus incentives, a source told MLB.com -- the Mets designated right-hander Brad Brach for assignment.
The deal gives the Mets needed depth behind their starters at second base, third base, shortstop, left and center field. Villar has played all those positions throughout his eight-year career, serving mostly as a middle infielder but providing versatility elsewhere.
He is best known for the havoc he can create on the basepaths, stealing an MLB-best 62 bags in 2016 and another 40 in ’19. That will make him a valuable pinch-runner for Mets manager Luis Rojas.
Villar endured a down year in 2020, batting .232/.301/.292 in 52 games, splitting his time between the Marlins and Blue Jays. But he posted a .792 OPS in 2019, thanks to a career-high 24 homers, to go along with his 40 steals. From 2016-19, Villar produced four consecutive seasons of 10-plus home runs and 20-plus stolen bases. He and Trea Turner were the only two players to do so over that stretch. Only seven active players have more than Villar’s 218 career steals.
In New York, Villar offers the Mets the type of skill set they have sought all offseason. The Mets held significant interest in Marwin Gonzalez, another free agent capable of playing both in the infield and outfield, but they pivoted to Villar. The team now has Major League veterans prepared to step in at every position: Villar and Luis Guillorme in the middle infield; Almora in the outfield; José Martínez at first base; and Tomás Nido at catcher.
Villar complements Guillorme, another backup who is a superior defender but less accomplished offensively. In addition to giving the Mets a viable sub for Francisco Lindor at shortstop, those two give the Mets the option to shift Jeff McNeil from second base to left field on occasion. They also offer flexibility to move J.D. Davis off third base against tough right-handed pitchers.
With Villar in the mix and the designated hitter still not part of Major League Baseball’s reported health and safety protocols, the Mets could be done adding to their stable of position players. The front office is still looking for additional pitching depth, perhaps in the form of a rotation addition. Otherwise, the Mets are mostly ready for Spring Training, after adding Lindor, James McCann, Carlos Carrasco, Joey Lucchesi, Martínez, Trevor May, Aaron Loup and others over the winter.