April 24, 2014

The Aviles acquisition: Small tinkering or the first sign of major change?

Saturday Afternoons in the fall is reserved for college football. On a day with big games galore, the Indians made news with a very interesting deal. Esmil Rogers, who was somewhat of a pen savior and one of the few bright spots in the horror show that was the 2012 season, was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays for veteran infielder Mike Aviles and catcher/1B/3B Yan Gomes. Aviles spent last season as the regular shortstop for the Boston Red Sox while Gomes, 25, was the AAA catcher for Las Vegas, the Blue Jays affiliate. Both are right-handed bats.

My initial, knee-jerk reaction to the deal was that bringing in Aviles signals to me that Asdrubal Cabrera is on the market.

Yes, while Aviles is 31 and probably at his best as a super-utility man, he is a solid defensive shortstop and comes as a nice, inexpensive stop-gap for the Indians top prospect, Francisco Lindor. Asdrubal has two years left on the extension he signed last season, which pays him $6.5 million in 2013, and $10 million in 2014. He turns just 27 next week and is a two-time All-Star. With the Indians having so many holes, Cabrera is their top trading chip, especially considering whoever trades for him gets a a guy with two years left on his deal while in his prime.

However, GM Chris Antonetti refuted my claims.

“Asdrubal Cabrera is our starting shortstop,” said Antonetti.

This is also coming from the same organization that told us that Manny Acta’s job wasn’t in danger a month before firing him, so I take that with a grain of salt.

Antonetti’s current thinking is that adding the right-handed Aviles gives the Indians all kinds of options. If the season started today, Lonnie Chisenhall, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jason Kipnis would make up three-quarters of the starting infield. With Aviles in the mix, all three of the aforementioned players can rotate between their infield spots and DH, while the newest Indian can move around second, short, and third. Aviles has played all three spots at times with the Royals and the Red Sox.

“He’s played most recently as the everyday shortstop with the Red Sox,” Antonetti said, “But he’s played second base and third base and some outfield. It’s his versatility that attracted us to him. He’s a professional hitter that can fill in at a lot of different spots.”

The beauty of no longer having Travis Hafner anchored to that DH spot is just what I described. Lonnie Chisenhall struggles in the field a little? DH him and play Aviles at third. Asdrubal starts to wear down a little bit as he has in each of the past two second halves? DH him and play Aviles at short. Kipnis needs a day to rest but you want his bat in the lineup? Play Aviles at second.

The Indians have run through utility men in the past few years, searching for someone they can count on. They think they may now have that in Aviles. Adding him is also another signal of the continued loss of faith in Jason Donald. That Cliff Lee trade continues to look worse and worse as the seasons go by.

Speaking of the Lee trade, another player acquired in that deal, Lou Marson, should be worrying about his future in this organization as well. Laser Lou has never been much of a hitter, but his bat was supposed to eventually come around. Other than a two month hot streak last season, it hasn’t. The Indians acquired Gomes to compete with Marson for the backup job, but his ability to play the corner infield positions makes him intriguing,

Gomes hit .328 /.380/.938 with 13 homers, 29 doubles and 59 RBIs in 79 games in AAA last season. In 43 games with the Blue Jays, he hit just .204/.264/.631 with four homers and 13 RBIs. Gomes is just 25 years old and clearly has more pop in his bat than Marson does. New Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash has worked with Gomes and is said to be a fan.

The Indians aren’t exactly flush with catching depth in the organization, so adding Gomes was a smart play. Marson hasn’t exactly set the world on fire and at this point, he is who is he, and is arbitration eligible in 2013. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if Marson is sent packing this winter as well. That would leave the Lee trade with just one remaining player in the organization – the coming off of Tommy John surgery starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco.

As for the man who was dealt to get Aviles and Gomes, Emil Rogers will be missed. However, the Indians bought him for $150,000 from Colorado and essentially stumbled into him being an effective reliever. The one place they do have organizational depth is in the pen, so selling Rogers high is a smart play. As of today, you still have your big three in the pen of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano, and Chris Perez. The brass is high on Cody Allen, and Nick Hagadone should be back as a big part of the pen in 2013.  Another name to watch is hard-charging Shawn Armstrong.

With Terry Francona on board more changes are afoot. The Indians still need to address their situations at first base and left field, as well as the giant holes in the rotation. They are clearly not done. But to what lengths will the Indians go to change the roster? Will they completely gut the roster and trade off veterans like Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, and Perez? Or will they add pieces to this current group and hope they can compete?

To me, the gutting needs to happen. The sooner the better.

With MLB’s new TV deal netting each team an additional $25 million, the Tribe should have some room to maneuver. I thought they missed a golden opportunity with the Angels looking to trade starting pitcher Dan Haren before eventually deciding not to pick up his $13 million option. A deal between the Angels and Cubs (Haren for reliever Carlos Marmol) fell through. I know Haren is coming off the worst season of his career and had back issues, but as a one-year, Kevin Millwood-2005 type, I thought the Indians missed an opportunity. Haren is now a free agent and will be too rich for the Indians blood that way.

Regardless, Antonetti and his lieutenants have a lot of work to do this offseason. Grabbing Aviles was a nice move, but one that is not going to move the needle. I will be very curious to see what happens from here.

photo via Elsa/Getty Images North America

  • JeffD

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gomes get a shot at 1B…or maybe this signals us seeing way more Santana at 1B with Marson/Gomes holding down C. Either way, this is an interesting trade and one that certainly gives the roster more flexibility…but sadly there are still a bunch of BP pitchers taking the mound every day, so hopefully that gets addressed soon!

  • Garry_Owen

    “Asdrubal Cabrera is our starting shortstop.”
    Translation: “Asdrubal Cabrera has a higher price tag than he would if he wasn’t our starting shortstop. Will entertain all serious calls.”

  • Natedawg86

    He should have said, “”Asdrubal Cabrera is our All-Star and starting shortstop.”

  • mgbode

    Or, could this signal that Antonetti/Shapiro read WFNY and are willing to consider the suggestion to move Asdrubal to 1B? He has a solid glove (his defensive issues usually are his range) and his bat is much, much better than what we have been putting out there at 1B.

  • mgbode

    I would like to point out that Toronto now gave away their manager to a division rival for a middle bullpen guy. And, they had to include another fringe MLBer just to get that bullpen arm.

    (and I like Rogers, but that is silly. they had Boston in a tough spot where they had the guy they wanted and he wanted them and they let a division rival right out of it.)

  • Dee P

    I would do it the other way. Cabrera has a great glove but bad range….perfect for 3B. Chisenhall has problems throwing to first….so eliminate the throwing and put Chiz at 1B.

  • Dee P

    Or are we going Aviles at 2B or SS and moving Kipnis back to LF?

  • BisonDeleSightings

    It makes even less sense when you consider that Toronto’s initial asking price was rumored to be Clay Buchholz.

  • mgbode

    I am open to both of your ideas.

    Aviles 2B w/ Kipnis LF.

    Aviles SS / Asdrubal 3B/Chisenhall 1B.

    or the above stated:
    Aviles SS / Asdrubal 1B.

    I do like that this gives us options. I just hope we do not squander those options by making Aviles a utility IFer if we do not fill the 1B and/or LF voids. With Francona at manager, I am hopeful that he will make the best use of the players he has at his disposal.

  • Kildawg

    In other words, go the Thome route with Chis? The flaw: we have guys like Santana and Canzler (even FAILPorta) that can cover 1B.

  • Kildawg

    Another idea is to keep both Gomes and Marson as bench players. 3 guys that can cover backstop is more than what most other teams can claim. Plus, Santana and Gomes can cover 1B and DH as well. Canzler is the LF/1B/DH option. Aviles is best suited to being our super-utility player. Overall, very savvy move by the FO in trading Rogers from relative depth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Kaiser/100002372284558 Michael Kaiser

    Not sure where Canzler fits it with all this talk about moving Kipnis to left, Astrubal to 1B, etc., but I think he needs to be in the lineup in some way as well. Maybe as DH? Here’s my take (which could change once the final roster is set): Santana should be the everyday 1B as long as he is on the team. He has shown over the last 3 years that he can not throw out base runners, and teams are constantly exposing the Indians on the base paths. This leaves either Marson or Gomes at catcher- not the perfect scenario, but at least good defensively. Leave Kipnis at 2B, insert Aviles at SS and either move Astrubal to 3B or trade him if he does not accept the move. If Chisenhall proves he can play LF, platoon him and Canzler in LF since one is LH hitter and one is RH. I would be very tempted to trade Astrubal at the trade deadline if (or when-LOL!) the Indians are out of contention for the right deal, but they MUST make sure they don’t blow it again like they did with the Cliff Lee trade and the awful trade for Jimenez.