The Cubs have officially released infielder Jonathan Villar, per MLB.com’s transaction tracker. This move comes in the wake of the team designating Villar for assignment last Friday. The 31-year-old infielder is now a free agent eligible to sign with any team for the league minimum, with the remainder of this offseason’s $6MM deal stuck on the Cubs’ books.
Despite jockeying for last place in the NL Central, the Cubs offense has actually been a middle-of-the-pack unit by numerous offensive metrics this season. As his release a few months into the season indicates, however, Villar was not contributing much to that silver lining. Through 46 games the switch hitter slashed .222/.271/.327 (67 OPS+) with just two home runs, a far cry from his usually solid career numbers of .256/.324/.399.
With David Bote’s return from the IL and team-controlled infielders like Patrick Wisdom and Nico Hoerner outproducing the lame duck Villar, it appears there was little incentive for Chicago to keep carrying a veteran with minimal trade value. The same can be said for Chicago’s other veteran infielder signing this past offseason, Andrelton Simmons. The 32-year-old Simmons has limped to a feeble .188/.212/.188 (14 OPS+) slash line this year, though shoulder issues are likely to blame for some of that showing. Given Simmons’ ongoing aptitude with the glove and almost inevitable regression to the mean, the team likely found more utility in hanging onto Simmons over Villar.
Despite the substandard first half, Villar’s profile should still hold appeal for other clubs. Even with declining speed, the infielder’s calling card has always been his penchant for steals, and that remained the case this year with a perfect 6-for-6 showing in that department. Additionally, while the Cubs ran out of patience for their offseason acquisition to turn a corner there are likely some hitting coaches out there who feel they can coax more production out of Villar’s bat. After all, he’s only a year removed from a solid 18-home run, 101 OPS+ showing with the Mets and has an average exit velocity not seen since his breakout season with the Brewers in 2016.
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