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Is Jonathan Villar going to slide into shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds?

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Cincinnati Reds v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

When Freddy Galvis reached free agency at the end of the abbreviated 2020 season, it left the Cincinnati Reds in a pickle at the shortstop position. Jose Garcia was still in-house, but struggled mightily in his first taste of the big leagues and most certainly could use some more seasoning in the minors. Fortunately for the Reds, though, the options for finding a new 6 were just about as plentiful as they had ever been in recent memory.

Since then, we’ve seen Francisco Lindor moved on the trade market. Ha-Seong Kim came to the states from South Korea, his ample talent earning him a five-year contract. Didi Gregorius, Marcus Semien, and Andrelton Simmons moved their All-Star caliber talents to new homes, while the Elvis Andrus Era in Texas finally closed with a deal to send him to Oakland. Heck, even the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles found their shortstop for the year, signing Galvis himself after dealing Jose Iglesias - yet another shortstop on the move - to the Los Angeles Angels earlier in the winter.

Many shortstops, many varying answers at the position, yet on February 6th, the Cincinnati Reds most talented in-house option remains Garcia - he of zero career minor league at-bats above A+ Daytona. Kyle Farmer is around (again), having been re-upped on a split contract after being non-tendered by the Reds earlier this winter. Kyle Holder, a former Rule 5 Draft pick who hasn’t played above AA at age 26, is also now on the roster. But with options almost completely exhausted, it appears the Reds may well be turning their eyes towards a player who has spent the bulk of his time as a 2B in each of the last two seasons.

That would be Jonathan Villar, formerly of Toronto, Baltimore, Miami, Milwaukee, and Houston. So says MLB Network insider Jon Heyman on Saturday, echoing an earlier report that the Reds and Villar were nearing a deal.

While no deal is in place as of yet, the Reds are pretty well the lone shortstop opening out there at the moment, so it’s not as if there are going to be ample suitors for big league money for Villar at the position elsewhere. Again, though, that’s assuming he’s even actually a shortstop in the eyes of clubs around the league right now, as he’s been a 2B more often than not for each of the last three clubs that have employed him.

That he’s even still available at this juncture - perhaps even on a mere minor league contact, as The Enquirer’s Bobby Nightengale relayed - is a testament to just how rough his 2020 campaign was. Split between Miami and Toronto, he posted just a .593 OPS (64 OPS+) in 207 PA, pairing with subpar overall defense to be a net-negative player by both fWAR and bWAR. It was a far cry from an otherwise rock solid 2019 campaign that saw him post a .792 OPS (109 OPS+) and 4.1 fWAR/3.9 bWAR, by far and away the most valuable season of his 8 year career.

That 2019 serves as the upside with Villar, obviously, and a 2016 campaign with Milwaukee was very much in-line with that level of work, too. It’s been the inconsistency in between that has tanked Villar’s overall value, though, and makes him very much a roll of the dice at this juncture of his career. He may well have a rebound left in him - he’s still just 29 years old until May, after all - but the dips in production in the rest of his career leave few guarantees.

That’s the Villar news in a vacuum, I suppose. He’s a player that’ll come cheap and have some semblance of upside, with a good chance he’s not the best shortstop on a roster full of not-great options at shortstop. From a bit larger viewpoint, though, the optics are much more frustrating.

This is a player the Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins have moved away from the last two years, with Baltimore going so far as to replace him with Jose Iglesias and Freddy Galvis. Iglesias and Galvis, you’ll recall, have formed the most recent iterations of the post Zack Cozart revolving door at short for the Reds, which makes the Reds and Orioles partners in this odd Iglesias/Galvis/Villar dance, should the deal go through. That’s not just not a ringing endorsement of the effort put into improving the position in Cincinnati, it falls woefully short of the ‘priortizing the shortstop position’ that was, in theory, the Reds M.O. when the offseason began.

Villar might end up good as a Red. He really might. But bringing him into the fold to be the regular shortstop at this point means the Reds either tried, and failed, to land a bigger fish, or simply didn’t try at all. It’s been that kind of decade for the Reds, though, so I’m not sure why this particular development should surprise any of us.