The Cleveland Indians took the baseball world by surprise Saturday when they announced a trade that sent relief pitcher Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for infielder Mike Aviles and catcher/utility man Yan Gomes. For me, the unexpectedness had two root causes: The first was that there had been no trade rumors or leaked information that such a deal was about to go down. The second was that I don’t see the rationale.
Trading Rogers made sense. The flamethrowing right-hander struck out more than a batter a frame and pitched to a 3.06 ERA (2.75 SIERA) in 53 innings with the Indians after coming over from the Rockies in June and showed that he could handle pitching in late-inning and high-leverage situations. In other words, he established himself as a valuable asset to a contending team in need of bullpen help, but he was an extravagance for a ballclub that just lost 94 games.
Nor are Aviles and Gomes a bad return. Avlies isn’t a very good hitter (he hit .250 with a .663 OPS as the Red Sox’ starting shortstop in 2012), but he has good speed and a strong glove; per wins above replacement he was a roughly-league average player this year. Gomes is a right-handed hitter who has a history of hitting for power in the minors and can play behind the plate, in left field, or at either corner infield spot. That’s a pretty nice haul for a pitcher who’ll throw at most 80 innings a year and owns a career 5.95 ERA.
The problem is, neither player the Indians acquired really seems like a good fit in Cleveland. Aviles can play second base, shortstop, or third base, but all three of those spots are (presumably) filled for 2013 with Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Lonnie Chisenhall. As a mediocre hitter and a solid fielder, Aviles is essentially a right-handed Jack Hannahan with more middle infield experience. Aviles instantly becomes the Tribe’s best backup infielder, but the Indians won’t very much better with him than they would be with, say, Jason Donald or Cord Phelps.
Nor does Gomes look like a particularly useful asset for Cleveland. Gomes will turn 26 next summer, yet he has only 43 games of MLB experience under his belt, during which he hit .204/.264/.367 with 32 strikeouts in 111 plate appearances. His bat probably isn’t strong enough to hold down a corner spot, so the Indians will let him compete for the backup catcher’s job in spring training. Of course, the Indians already have a strong second-string backstop in Lou Marson, who is one of the best defensive catchers in the league. Again, it’s not as though Gomes is a bad pickup—he has intriguing power potential and versatility—but as with Avila it just doesn’t seem like he adds much to the organization.
In terms of pure player value getting Aviles and Gomes for a relief pitcher was a shrewd deal. Moreover, Avila could give Cleveland the flexibility to trade Asdrubal Cabrera, or the Tribe could flip him again for a first baseman or a left fielder or a starting pitcher. But if trading Rogers for Aviles and Gomes is Chris Antonetti’s end game, I’m not sure how the Indians are better for it.