Jonathan Villar Joins the Cubs as Their Newest Jack of All Trades

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Seiya Suzuki is rightfully the headline grabber, but the Cubs stayed in the news on Thursday by agreeing to terms with infielder Jonathan Villar on a one-year deal worth $6 million. Villar spent the 2021 season with the Mets, hitting .249/.322/.416 in 142 games for 2.1 WAR and playing second base, third base, and shortstop for the injury-riddled franchise. That 2021 season represented a colossal comeback from his poor showing in 2020, when his power disappeared and he finished with a lackluster .232/.301/.292 line.

Versatility is one of those things that’s hard to put a precise figure on, but having a player such as Villar on your roster is basically like giving yourself a 27- or 28-man roster. He won’t remind anyone of Ozzie Smith at short, but that’s hardly the point with a player with his skillset. Whatever infielder you lose to a pulled hammy or a sprained elbow, Villar represents a 20/20-capable player who can man the position. He’s played much less often in the outfield, but there’s no particular reason to think he’d be a problem out there; he’s certainly fast enough to play even center field, and he stole 40 bases as recently as 2019. Being versatile isn’t one of the parameters that ZiPS looks for when making comps, but it still warms my heart to see Tony Phillips, the Platonic ideal of a super-sub, showing up high in Villar’s comp list at 15th. If he is 80% of Phillips, the retooling Cubs ought to be overjoyed with how their $6 million was spent.

With that versatility in mind, I’m doing something a little different with Villar: I’m going to project him everywhere he could see playing time. I’m even instructing ZiPS to consider him as a first baseman even though he’s only played a single professional game there; he’s considerably taller than the scrappy David Eckstein archetype.

ZiPS Projection – Jonathan Villar
Po BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
1B .253 .317 .407 509 69 129 20 2 18 54 45 142 22 91 1 0.7
2B .256 .322 .408 515 71 132 20 2 18 54 48 142 24 93 -4 1.6
3B .254 .320 .399 516 70 131 20 2 17 54 48 142 23 90 -3 1.5
SS .253 .319 .399 514 70 130 20 2 17 53 48 142 23 90 -7 1.4
LF .253 .318 .401 509 69 129 20 2 17 54 46 141 23 90 2 1.1
RF .254 .319 .401 511 69 130 20 2 17 54 46 141 23 90 2 1.1
CF .254 .318 .400 512 69 130 20 2 17 53 46 141 22 90 -4 1.4

Except at first base, where his bat would really suffer against the competition, $6 million could probably justify Villar at the six other positions listed here, even if each position was the only one that he played.

The Cubs could especially use such a flexible player, given some of their roster questions. Nick Madrigal, acquired for Craig Kimbrel and expected to be the starting second baseman, is coming off missing more than half a season with a torn hamstring and will likely be eased back in with some time at DH. Nico Hoerner, the team’s potential shortstop of the future, has played a lot more at second the last couple of years, and his performance has been all over the place. Andrelton Simmons, brought in to be the veteran bridge to the team’s next shortstop, has seen his offense collapse from its 2017–18 peak. Patrick Wisdom at third came out of nowhere last season and is already on the wrong side of 30. What you get out of Jason Heyward or Ian Happ is almost a guess at this point. Villar represents a viable Plan B or Plan C at all these positions, in a way that David Bote can’t quite manage.

That combination of flexibility and ability is less common among infielders than you’d think. Only 71 men in baseball history played at least 10% of their games at each of second base, shortstop, and third base and accumulated 3,000 plate appearances in the majors. Villar is in the top 20 in both home runs and OPS (and ZiPS projects another 66 homers for him over the rest of his career, which would put him in the top 10).

Top 2B/SS/3B Utility Players, by OPS
Player HR PA BA OBP SLG OPS
José Ramírez 163 4028 .278 .354 .501 .856
Buddy Myer 38 8192 .303 .389 .406 .796
Michael Young 185 8612 .300 .346 .441 .787
Javier Báez 149 3255 .265 .307 .477 .783
Johnny Pesky 17 5516 .307 .394 .386 .780
Gil McDougald 112 5398 .276 .356 .410 .766
Tony Phillips 160 9110 .266 .374 .389 .763
Toby Harrah 195 8767 .264 .365 .395 .760
Randy Velarde 100 4813 .276 .353 .408 .760
Mark Loretta 76 6558 .295 .360 .395 .754
Asdrúbal Cabrera 195 7401 .266 .329 .423 .752
Mark DeRosa 100 4094 .268 .340 .412 .751
Eduardo Escobar 138 4270 .256 .309 .436 .745
Jed Lowrie 118 5012 .260 .333 .411 .745
Bill Hall 125 3674 .248 .308 .436 .744
Damion Easley 163 6211 .253 .329 .404 .733
Felix Mantilla 89 3029 .261 .329 .403 .732
Jonathan Villar 98 3714 .258 .326 .403 .729
Tony Graffanino 58 3161 .266 .335 .394 .729
Bernie Friberg 38 4799 .281 .356 .373 .728
Felipe Lopez 90 4864 .264 .333 .391 .724
Newt Allen 21 3991 .289 .348 .376 .724
Charlie Neal 87 3754 .259 .329 .395 .723
Jimmy Johnston 22 5630 .295 .347 .374 .721
Juan Uribe 199 6715 .255 .301 .418 .719
Marwin Gonzalez 101 3675 .256 .313 .404 .717
Eduardo Núñez 58 3008 .276 .310 .404 .714
Jeff Keppinger 45 3156 .282 .330 .385 .714
Denis Menke 101 5936 .250 .343 .370 .713
Bill Spiers 37 3845 .271 .341 .370 .711
Eric McNair 82 4870 .274 .318 .392 .710
Daryl Spencer 105 4208 .244 .327 .380 .707
Maicer Izturis 39 3350 .269 .331 .372 .703
Cass Michaels 53 5024 .262 .349 .353 .702
Sparky Adams 9 6177 .286 .343 .353 .695
Geoff Blum 99 4393 .250 .310 .384 .694
Bill Sweeney 11 4283 .272 .349 .344 .693
Jerry Hairston 70 4967 .257 .325 .368 .692
Mark Lewis 48 3051 .263 .312 .380 .692
Jamey Carroll 13 4225 .272 .349 .338 .687
Craig Counsell 42 5488 .255 .342 .344 .686
Mark Koenig 28 4605 .279 .316 .367 .683
Frankie Gustine 38 5040 .265 .322 .359 .681
Jimmy Brown 9 3835 .279 .326 .352 .678
Wayne Causey 35 3722 .253 .333 .341 .674
Mike Aviles 60 3234 .261 .295 .376 .671
Desi Relaford 40 3347 .243 .319 .347 .666
Buck Herzog 20 6057 .259 .329 .335 .664
Jose Vizcaino 36 5918 .270 .318 .346 .663
Don Zimmer 91 3593 .236 .290 .372 .662
Willie Bloomquist 18 3136 .269 .316 .342 .658
Frank O’Rourke 15 4611 .254 .315 .334 .649
Mike Gallego 42 3379 .239 .320 .328 .648
Jerry Royster 40 4732 .249 .316 .333 .648
Nick Punto 19 3734 .245 .323 .323 .646
Sibby Sisti 27 3371 .244 .313 .324 .637
Dave Chalk 15 3330 .252 .325 .310 .636
Bob Bailor 9 3206 .264 .310 .325 .636
Pete Suder 49 5475 .249 .291 .337 .627
Terry Turner 8 6665 .253 .308 .318 .626
George Strickland 36 3268 .224 .313 .311 .624
Ivy Olson 13 6635 .258 .295 .318 .613
Larry Brown 47 3872 .233 .300 .313 .612
Eddie Miksis 44 3340 .237 .288 .322 .610
John Knight 14 3002 .239 .300 .309 .609
Rollie Zeider 5 3694 .240 .316 .286 .601
Barry McCormick 15 4047 .238 .297 .303 .600
Charley Bassett 15 3759 .231 .285 .304 .590
Tommy Thevenow 2 4485 .247 .285 .294 .579
Davy Force 1 4406 .249 .276 .296 .572
Hal Lanier 8 3940 .228 .255 .275 .529

José Ramírez and Javier Báez are examples of two guys you don’t think of as traditional utility players, but I’m fine seeing them here; that ability still exists even when playing a single position exclusively and gives their teams some long-term flexibility when constructing their rosters.

With each one of their moves, the Cubs sneak just that much closer to contention. Last week, ZiPS had Chicago with an 11.1% chance to make the playoffs. Since then, the team has added Villar, Suzuki, Simmons, and David Robertson. At the same time, the Reds have cleaned house to the extent that their roster resembles a serving plate of Buffalo wings at 11:45 PM on Super Bowl Sunday. This has crept the Cubs to a fraction of a win below 80 in ZiPS, with a 27.0% chance of making the playoffs.

Villar doesn’t make the Cubs playoff favorites, but he makes the team better and more playoff relevant. After Chicago’s 2020 season, I think most fans would take that.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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WARonEverything
3 months ago

What about Bote, he won’t be out that long will he? Seems like they have 2 extra infielders. but with the DH I guess Wisdom might be better in that role.