The Rundown: Villar Could Be Great Value Add, Rizzo Named Cubs’ Core Player of Decade, Merrifield Says Owners Unwilling to Negotiate

What is Jed Hoyer’s backup plan at shortstop if the Cubs don’t sign Carlos Correa? It was reported recently that Trevor Story is probably not somebody the Cubs would recruit as a Plan B, so that may be out. Few of us are comfortable handing the position to Nico Hoerner and, in fairness to the oft-injured infielder, replacing Javier Báez could crush whatever development Hoerner may have left.

Evan Altman pointed out the other day that Hoyer and new GM Carter Hawkins may conduct business in a similar fashion to the 2013 Red Sox. That team jettisoned a number of bloated contracts in favor of veterans on short-term deals and went from worst to first in the AL East before capturing a World Series championship that October.

One player who might fit nicely into that type of roster model is 31-year-old switch-hitter Jonathan Villar, who has settled in as a dependable all-around player. Villar hit .249/.322/.416 for a 105 wRC+ last season, putting him just above average at the plate. Jim Bowden of The Athletic named the Cubs as a potential suitor (subscriber content) for the veteran infielder, calling him the “ultimate Swiss Army Knife.” In other words, he is versatile, match-proof, carries a very good speed-power combination, and would make a great “value signing.”

Though he sounds exactly the kind of player Hoyer would target, Villar does have some drawbacks. For one, he’s not very contact-oriented and he has struck out at a rate of 24% or higher in each of the past six seasons. Villar is also not elite defensively and is better suited to play second base, though he isn’t terrible at shortstop or third.

What Villar does provide is decent OBP skills with some pop and speed. In 2019 he hit 33 doubles, 24 home runs, and stole 40 bases for the Orioles. After an off-year in 2020, he hit 18 home runs and swiped 14 bags with the Mets last season. The all-purpose veteran can even play center in a pinch if needed. He’d also give the Cubs a great bench bat or pinch-runner during the games he doesn’t start. Villar’s righty-lefty splits are pretty equal, giving manager David Ross a ton of flexibility.

The league-average profile isn’t all that sexy, but Villar probably won’t cost much more than $12 million on a two-year deal. That would give the Cubs enough time to push a minor league shortstop like Reginald Preciado or James Triantos through the system. Perhaps Cristian Hernadez could slide over to third base since his ETA is similar to both prospects, solidifying the left side of the infield for 5-7 years starting in 2024-25 if everything goes right.

An infield of Parick Wisdom, Villar, Nick Madrigal, and Frank Schwindel isn’t as dynamic as Kris Bryant, Báez, Hoerner, and Anthony Rizzo, but it’s not as disparate as you may think if 2022 projections are to be trusted. It’s roughly 3-5 wins between the former (group A) and the latter, a steal at the money the Cubs would be saving.

  • Group A: .251 BA, 268 runs, 81 HR, 260 RBI for roughly $7.8 million
  • Group B: .268 BA, 304 runs, 91 HR, 301 RBI for an estimated $57.6 million

The best part of signing Villar is the financial flexibility he’d provide Hoyer and Hawkins this season and beyond. Theoretically, the front office tandem would have an extra $24 million or more in AAV they’d save by not signing Correa, allowing them to pursue an outfielder, another starting pitcher, and a reliever or two. That might mean one of former Cubs Kyle Schawrber or Nick Castellanos, or perhaps Eddie Rosario, and a starting pitcher such as Yusei Kikuchi or Michael Pineda. They’d also have enough cash left over to acquire a relief arm or two among Collin McHugh, Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera, and Joe Kelly.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

I feel like this kid actually punked WGN News, but if he didn’t, I’m not sure why anyone thought he was newsworthy.

MLB News & Notes

The new weekly ESPN Sunday Night Baseball team will be Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, and David Cone, according to sources. Yankees announcer Michael Kay will join Álex Rodríguez to form their version of the Manningcast.

The Mets could target White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel once the league resumes baseball activities.

Adam Eaton is mulling retirement and may elect to coach for Joe Maddon with the Angels.

The Rangers and Mariners combined to spend $615 million on three players right before the lockout. Talk about the wild, wild West.

Trevor Bauer has returned to social media and hinted that he will be back pitching for the Dodgers this season.

Negotiations & Love Songs

Royals infielder Whit Merrifield claims that the league owners “pretty much said no” to all of the MLBPA talking points.

Merrifield also accused the owners of crying poor and using loopholes to defend their statements.

When it comes to predicting when baseball will resume normal activities, the range is anywhere from the end of January to the beginning of March.

Lockout talks are expected to heat up at some point this month.

You’ll need a subscription to ESPN+ to access the content, but Jeff Passan wrote that baseball is “frighteningly irrelevant” because of the lockout.

A sports poll conducted by Seton Hall University gives credence to Passan’s statement.

Apropos of Nothing

Let me give you five songs I am really digging on lately, with double your money back if you don’t love them, too. It’s nice to see that the old-school R&B/Soul sound survived the last decade or so.

  1. Sugarfoot by Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears (for fans of James Bown)
  2. Beyond by Leon Bridges (for fans of Sam Cooke)
  3. Are You Ready to Love Me by The War and Treaty (for fans of Delaney & Bonnie)
  4. Cut Ya Down by Eli “Paperboy” Reed (for fans of Soul Survivors)
  5. Bread and Butter by Hugo (for fans of Son House)

Extra Innings

Mike Trout is no Justin Verlander, though his motion looks strikingly similar to the ageless right-hander.

They Said It

  • “This negotiation is about the integrity of the game from our eyes. We feel as players that too many teams have gone into a season without any intent to win during this past CBA. Even though that can be a strategy to win in future years, we’ve seen both small-market and large-market clubs embrace tanking, and that cannot be the optimal strategy for the owners.” Max Scherzer
  • “Baseball, at the moment, is frighteningly irrelevant. In a normal winter, players would be signing and teams would be making trades, and the promise of pitchers and catchers reporting would provide enough fuel to keep the hot stove lit. Today, there is nothing. MLB’s official website looks like an old GeoCities page, and its TV network is in permanent rerun mode. Pitchers and catchers reporting in mid-February gets less likely by the minute, and after 36 days of silence since the lockout began, there remain no plans for the sides to talk about the core economic issues that cleave them.” – Passan

Friday Walk-Up Song

My Wife Thinks You’re Dead by Junior Brown- An apt euphemism for baseball right now. If you’re a fan of Western Swing and the likes of Chuck Wills back when live concerts were beamed coast-to-coast on AM radio from Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, OK, this throwback by old Junior will make your Friday the best ever.

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