Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Orioles News

Inbox: Will Villar return to the O's in 2020?

Beat reporter Joe Trezza answers Baltimore fans' questions
@JoeTrezz
October 7, 2019

Hello again, Orioles fans, and welcome to the offseason. It’s going to be a busy winter for the organization, even if Baltimore isn’t exactly expected to light up the hot stove. The good news is, we’ll be here for you with weekly installments of the Inbox and other recurring features

Hello again, Orioles fans, and welcome to the offseason. It’s going to be a busy winter for the organization, even if Baltimore isn’t exactly expected to light up the hot stove.

The good news is, we’ll be here for you with weekly installments of the Inbox and other recurring features to keep you warm over the next few months. Remember, coverage on Orioles.com doesn’t stop just because the season’s over.

With that being said, let’s get started by tackling a fresh batch of your questions, which came in droves this time, by the way. Keep them coming as 2020 nears, and you’ll find Spring Training will be here before you know it.

This is probably the Orioles’ biggest roster decision of the winter, unless they are overwhelmed by any offers for Trey Mancini. Who knows? Maybe they will be. But the more likely scenario would be the O’s shopping Jonathan Villar with urgency, and the second baseman having suitors.

Baltimore’s motivation is obvious, and Villar’s trade value is plain to see. He was a 4.0 WAR player in 2019 who’ll be in line to make between $6 million and $7 million in salary arbitration, and he is not in the Orioles’ long-term plans. He is only under contract through 2020, but he stands out given what looks like a barren free-agent market for middle infielders. Throw Villar into that mix, and he’d be by far the youngest and most productive player available, which could make him a perfect short-term option for a contender looking to shore up its middle infield.

The Cubs had interest in Villar at the Trade Deadline. They could easily be in the mix for him again this winter, with the Twins, Red Sox, Indians and D-backs also profiling as potential fits. What I wonder is whether the Orioles will explore their options in earnest before or after the arbitration process -- but one way or another, I expect Villar to be wearing a different uniform in 2020.

Here’s the short answer: The best player available, by the Orioles’ evaluation. And that’s just another way of me saying that I don’t know, because frankly, this is impossible to predict right now.

The names currently garnering the most top-of-the-board buzz are Georgia righty Emerson Hancock, Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson and Vanderbilt third baseman Austin Martin. There is a decent chance the Orioles will land one of them with the No. 2 Draft pick, but so much hinges on what happens in their college seasons this spring.

Hancock in particular has had injury scares before, and Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdel enjoyed much better success in Houston drafting college position players than pitchers with their top picks. The Orioles are in a position organizationally where they can’t really afford to miss at the top of the Draft, which makes me think, all things being equal, they’d sidestep some risk and choose a bat when it gets down to decision time.

Not exactly, since Ryan Mountcastle (Baltimore’s No. 4 prospect, and No. 64 overall, according to MLB Pipeline) isn’t likely to break camp with the club no matter what kind of spring he has. But do I think Mountcastle’s arrival is eventually what forces a decision on Chris Davis? Yes. Do I think a bad spring helps swing that decision? Yes. So, I do think the two things are related. And it’ll be a dynamic to monitor closely come Spring Training.

Only at the margins, I’d imagine. Elias is on record saying investing in talent through free agency isn’t the team’s priority; the Orioles are going to devote much more energy to combing the waiver wire and deciding which arms to protect from the Rule 5 Draft. One of those will be Keegan Akin (No. 11 prospect), who the O’s hope will claim a rotation spot with a strong spring. Dean Kremer (No. 8 prospect) will probably be up before 2020 is out as well. They are expecting Alex Cobb back and healthy by spring after he missed most of 2019 due to hip surgery. Besides that, they could take fliers on a couple of low-risk veterans on Minor League or one-year deals, like they did with Nate Karns and Dan Straily last year.

Adley Rutschman, the Orioles’ No. 1 prospect and 2019’s No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft, won’t be in Baltimore by 2020. If all goes well, watch for him in 2021. Mountcastle, on the other hand, should be up by midseason, but the Orioles want him to get more seasoning at first base and left field and improve his plate discipline first.

Cedric Mullins is going to have to work his way back up the Orioles’ depth chart, but there is absolutely an opportunity for him to do so. The Orioles have remarkably little depth in center field for the number of outfielders they have in the fold. (Stevie Wilkerson, Mullins’ emergency, stopgap replacement, was still starting in the outfield -- and possibly made the catch of the year -- on the season’s final day.) When he’s right, Mullins brings more speed and better defensive skills than most of their other options. He’s going to have to outperform Mason Williams and others to get the chance, but the Orioles hope he plays his way back into the mix.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.