When the Cleveland Indians pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Esmil Rogers to the Blue Jays for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes, some saw it as a signal that the Tribe planned to trade Asdrubal Cabrera this winter. Cabrera’s name had already popped up in trade rumors, and with Aviles in the fold the Indians suddenly had a potential replacement.
But should Aviles’ presence really make a difference? The notion that Cabrera is now expendable hinges on the false assumption that Aviles would make a good starting shortstop.
This past season was the second-best season of Aviles’ career as FanGraphs put him at 1.8 wins above replacement, topped only by his 2008 rookie season, when he posted a 4.4 WAR. Yet his 2012 numbers were far from impressive. Aviles’ .663 OPS ranked 14th out of 17 shortstops who qualified for the batting title in 2012,. The reason that Aviles looks solid, at times, when you look at his stats is because his 162-game averages would feature 31 doubles, four triples, 13 home runs, 65 RBI, and 17 stolen bases, with a respectable .277 batting average. However, if you look deeper into his statistics, Aviles’ career on-base percentage is just .308, including a .282 OBP in 2012.
What about in the field? While Aviles’ .975 fielding percentage was a little better than Cabrera’s .971 in 2012, Cabrera has a slightly better range factor (4.64 to 4.50), and made just four more errors (19 to 15) in 59 more chances, which could be attributed to the range differential. Contrary to popular belief, this may mean that Aviles’ glove is inferior to Cabrera’s, despite what some observers have seen as the latter’s poor conditioning.
Simply put, Aviles cannot replace Cabrera in 2013, or any other year for that matter. Cabrera is certainly capable of bringing back several valuable pieces in a trade, but is that worth giving up Cabrera and his team-friendly two-year, $16.5 million deal? As Cabrera reaches his prime, age-27 season in 2013, should Cleveland fans be enthusiastic about their star potentially being replaced by a stopgap journeyman who turns 32 years old in March?
As the Indians continue to plan for the future, there are several players to monitor for shortstop throne:
- Juan Diaz: 24 years old in December; played in Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors in 2012; combined to hit .266/.314/.429 with 29 doubles and 13 home runs in 481 minor league plate appearances;
- Ronny Rodriguez: 21 years old in April; played at High-A for all of 2012; hit .264/.300/.452 with 20 doubles and 19 home runs in 483 plate appearances; solid power but he can’t take a pitch or work a walk with a career .289 on-base percentage.
- Tony Wolters: 21 years old in June; played at High-A for all of 2012; hit .260/.320/.404 with 30 doubles, eight triples, and eight home runs in 537 plate appearances; shows a bit more promise offensively with a career .342 on-base percentage to go along with solid power and speed.
- Francisco Lindor: 19 years old in November; played at Low-A for all of 2012; hit .257/.352/.355 with 24 doubles, three triples, and six home runs in 568 plate appearances; he is the team’s top prospect.
The problem is, none of these players could take over the job in 2013. While the Indians could get a nice return for their star shortstop, they would be better off keeping him at his affordable $6.5 million contract and giving their group of “heir apparent” shortstops another year to determine who the eventual replacement will be. They could then deal Cabrera prior to 2014, giving up a full year and the $10 million that he is due, and turning the position over to Diaz, Rodriguez, Wolters, or Lindor.
Aviles’ versatility and ability to drive the ball when he does make contact makes him a perfect infield complement to Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall, allowing the team to move away from failed options like Jack Hannahan and Jason Donald. He’s is the perfect bench player to the current makeup of the Tribe roster, providing depth and options for Kipnis or Chisenhall against tough left-handed pitchers. The Indians are better off with both Cabrera and Aviles in 2013 than they would be with just one.
Trading Cabrera now and letting Aviles take his place would be tantamount to throwing away the 2013 season and turning away a fanbase that the team basically turned their backs on in 2012. Let’s hope Cabrera is still around come Opening Day.