Aviles’ Contract in Cleveland’s Context

In 2008, Mike Aviles was a 27-year-old minor league infielder in the Royals’ system who had to get a lucky break for the club to play him over this historically terrible Tony Pena, Jr. Yesterday, the soon-to-be 32-year-old Aviles got his first multi-year, guaranteed deal with Cleveland, which bought out his last two years of arbitration for $6 million and a club option for 2015. It has been quite the odyssey for Aviles, who was drafted by the Royals seventh round in 2003, in large part because he would sign for a $1,000 signing bonus (David Glass is great, isn’t he? Let’s give a hand to David Glass, folks!), has seen himself passed over for the likes of the aforementioned Pena, Yuniesky Betancourt and Chris Getz, and was traded twice this winter, including once for a manager.

Despite all that, Aviles has shown himself to be a useful player — and while this contract is hardly huge in itself — it might have interesting implications for how Cleveland’s roster might shake out in the near future.

As a hitter, Aviles has his ups and downs: from his surprising out-of-nowhere .325/.354/.480 rookie performance with the Royals in 2008 to his terrible .250/.282/.381 (74 wRC+) line for the Red Sox in 2012. But he’s basically been the same hitter every season. He’s a hacker with above-average contact skills and a bit of pop, but neither in enough quantities to make up for his lack of walks (career 4.2% walk rate). As with most hitters of this sort, when his BABIP is high, as in 2008 and 2010, he is an average or above-average, which is nice for a middle infielder. When his BABIP is low, as it has been in the past two seasons, things get pretty ugly — and he has to lean on fielding, which is hard to pin down.

When Aviles was in the Royals system, his reputation was he couldn’t play shortstop all that well, and his bat would not really play at second or third. However, he actually looked pretty good at short when he finally came up in 2008, and the Red Sox obviously felt like he could handle the position well enough on a full-time basis in 2012. There are good reasons to think most shortstops have the skills to perform better at second or third base, but Aviles has never seemed to be as comfortable at either of those positions as he has at shortstop (and hey, you can’t move or bench a stud shortstop like Yuniesky Betancourt, right?). This strange phenomenon is not unique to Aviles — after all, Alexei Ramirez is a fine defensive shortstop who did not look that great at second — but it is surprising, nonetheless. Maybe it is his particular skill set, or maybe he just needs to get used to being a utility player.

This is not quite all there is to Aviles. He seems to have more than his fair share of memorably embarrassing gaffes on the base paths. These incidents overshadow the fact that Aviles is actually an above-average base runner. He’s about an break-even base stealer, but he does well enough doing things like taking the extra base to add a run or two over a full season. On a more subjective level, Aviles has developed a reputation as a good clubhouse guy who also interacts well with fans. As a robotic, emotionless saber-fan, I obviously completely dismiss the relevance of that stuff, of course, but I bet some teams value it.

Aviles is probably about an average player, even if his fielding abilities are enigmatic and his offense is streaky. What appears to be going on, contract-wise, is Aviles got two years of guaranteed security in exchange for a third-year club option. But this is where some of the confusion begins. Aviles is better than most utility infielders, and while he is not a first tier starter, he could start for some teams. If he had a clear starting spot for Cleveland, the deal might make some sense. Cleveland, though, is set at second (Jason Kipnis), shortstop (Asdrubal Cabrera) and third (Lonnie Chisenhall). Why would the team want to guarantee multiple years to a player who is significantly older than all three of those players, and probably not as good?

Depth is nice, and having better-than-replacement players during a rebuilding phase is not simply a waste of money. But Aviles is not Nick Swisher. There is no obvious place for him to play, and he’s not as good as Swisher. It is not as if he has a lot of trade value on his own. Of course, someone could get hurt, or one of the younger guys might tank and get set to the minors. However, those a pretty typical, and would not in themselves really have justified giving a multi-year deal to Aviles.

A more intriguing possibility, as mentioned by Jordan Bastian on Twitter, is Cleveland may be looking to trade Cabrera at some point between now and the begining of the 2014 season. Cabrera is no defensive whiz, but his bat plays well at shortstop. Even at $10 million in 2014, he would be a good deal at shortstop for a contender, and thus has real trade value. Chisenhall and Kipnis, on the other hand, are players a rebuilding and Cleveland obviously wants to keep around.

Aviles is good enough to be an inexpensive stopgap during a rebuilding period if Cleveland decides to trade Cabrera. Cleveland has a couple of good shortstop prospects in Francisco Lindor and Dorssys Paulino, but neither is even 20 nor has either played above A-ball yet. How they (or some other player) develop is anyone’s guess, but by getting the club option on Aviles for 2015, Cleveland at least gets themselves a bit more risk-free security while they rebuild yet again.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Adam
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Adam
3 years 6 months ago

One of the big reasons behind the Aviles acquisition is protection against LHP’s. Kipnis (66 wRC+) and Chisenhall (19 wRC+ in SSS) have both struggled against lefties in recent years, so locking up a guy who can play 3B, SS, and 2B is really quite valuable. Aviles was at least average against lefties in 2012 despite being awful overall, and owns a career 111 wRC+ against them.

In addition to the possibility of trading Cabrera, the Indians have also sought ways to improve their bench. Cabrera and Kipnis both really wore down in the second half of 2012, and much of that likely had to do with the fact that both essentially got zero days off (aside from Cabrera’s bereavement leave) in the first half of the year. Aviles will come in handy as he will offer Francona a way to rotate Kipnis, Cabrera, and Chisenhall out of the lineup or into the DH spot if he wants to keep their bat in the lineup.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
3 years 6 months ago

“[T]he Red Sox obviously felt like he could handle the position well enough on a full-time basis in 2012” – not really. He had hit decently in ’11, so they gave him a shot, but they also signed Punto and had Iglesias, both better fielders, and both actually on better contracts.

ed
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ed
3 years 6 months ago

He played 136 games at SS in 2012. The Red Sox definitely thought of him as the full-time SS. He played nearly every game until the end of July when he was slumping badly, and it wasn’t until the Red Sox were firmly out of contention in September that Iglesias saw any meaningful time.

gareth
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gareth
3 years 6 months ago

I’ll take aviles anyday as a back up infielder over brett lillibridge, luis valbuena, cord phelps, jason Donald and all the other sub par bench utility guys the indians have trotted out the past few years.

People keep going on about the inevitable Cabrera trade because of aviles being there, which is valid but is not the whole picture. In this climate taking the draft pick is a good fall back option. Unless the indians get elite starting pitching for Cabrera and perez they are staying put.

I think the only thing good to come out of the cliff lee trade is that the front office is now more wary of making a deal just for the sake of it. The Bauer trade would appear to be a step in the right direction. Its an average offence with or without asdrubal. The pitching however……….

Oh, Beepy
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Oh, Beepy
3 years 6 months ago

There are a couple sentences in here that appear to have been edited on the fly and are currently unreadable.

Other than that great article A+

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
3 years 6 months ago

The first paragraph just confused the hell out of me. I gave up instead of trying to make out the point.

maguro
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maguro
3 years 6 months ago

Klaasen, do you think the Royals would have a bigger payroll if they had a different owner? Curious why you think David Glass is a uniquely bad owner. I mean, it is Kansas City after all, they are definitely going to be on the low end of the revenue scale in MLB regardless of who owns the team.

tommy
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tommy
3 years 6 months ago

Because he possibly the wealthiest owner in mlb.

tommy
Guest
tommy
3 years 6 months ago

And bc he runs the franchise like wal mart. Combine the two, and there you go.

ineedanap
Guest
ineedanap
3 years 6 months ago

Now this is a valid point. Its really tough to imagine the Royals fielding a competitive team, despite all of their highly-touted prospects.

ineedanap
Guest
ineedanap
3 years 6 months ago

The amount of wealth the owner has matters much less than the market in which the team plays.

maguro
Guest
maguro
3 years 6 months ago

MLB owners don’t fund their teams with their own personal wealth.

tommy
Guest
tommy
3 years 6 months ago

i never said they did. and detroit disagrees with you.

pft
Guest
pft
3 years 6 months ago

Aviles played a great SS for the Red Sox last year and hit well in the first half. I think he got a bit too pull happy in the 2nd half which is what Fenway does to some hitters. He goes to his right at SS as good as any SS, and has a gun for an arm.

If they trade Cabrera he would be a good SS to have.

One negative on Aviles is he whines a lot to umpires, and is usually wrong. I think some umps called close calls against him for this reason.

WahooManiac
Member
WahooManiac
3 years 6 months ago

Aviles is the least of this organizations decisions that should be questioned of late, my squad is killin me. The pile of puke that is Ubaldo set us back years

Jim S.
Guest
Jim S.
3 years 6 months ago

The first graph needs an editor.

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