In terms of the players transacted, it was a great deal—even forgetting Gomes, the Indians got a starting-caliber middle infielder for a reliever with a career 5.95 ERA—but as I wrote yesterday it doesn’t do much to improve the Tribe’s roster. Though Aviles is now without a doubt Cleveland’s best utility infield option it wasn’t as though the Indians were hurting for depth there. Similarly, Gomes is expected to compete for the backup catcher spot that is currently (and capably) held by Lou Marson.
But there’s one possible scenario in which this trade would make complete and total sense. And though I’m not the first to raise this question, it bears asking: Does this mean the Indians are going to trade Asdrubal Cabrera?
The official word from the team is no. “Asdrubal Cabrera is our starting shortstop,” GM Chris Antonetti has said. I don’t mean to suggest that this isn’t the truth—though in either case it’s doubtful that the front office would admit to shopping him until a trade was in place—but it’s hard to imagine that a Cabrera deal is out of the question.
We’ve already explored the idea of the Indians trading Cabrera. Painful though it may sound to Tribe fans, the idea makes a lot of sense. Simply put, he’d be an extremely valuable trade chip—good-hitting shortstops don’t grow on trees, especially ones who are generally regarded as strong fielders—and dealing him could bring in a ton of young impact talent. If the Indians are indeed about to start a new rebuilding cycle, keeping Cabrera around to help Cleveland win 73 games instead of 70 instead of flipping him for future help would be a mistake.
Aviles’ presence makes this case even stronger. Even if the Indians plan to compete in 2013, trading Cabrera might still make sense now that they have a suitable replacement in tow. Cleveland’s roster would look better with Aviles at shortstop and, say, Mark Trumbo at first base than with Cabrera at shortstop and Casey Kotchman 2.0 playing first. The same principle applies to left field and the starting rotation. You trade from strength to address a weakness—which, by the way, is exactly what Antonetti said about the Rogers trade.
There’s a good chance Aviles’ role with in Cleveland will end up being exactly what it’s being said to be: a utility infielder who can come off the bench as a pinch-runner or defensive replacement. But it’s hard to ignore the possibility that this deal might foreshadow the forthcoming end of Asdrubal Cabrera’s tenure with the Indians.