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Analyzing the Mike Aviles/Yan Gomes for Esmil Rogers deal

Analyzing the Mike Aviles/Yan Gomes for Esmil Rogers deal
November 4, 2012
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The Indians acquired Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes on Saturday in a trade that sent the Toronto Blue Jays right handed reliever, Esmil  Rogers. The deal was the first move made by the “Three Amigos” of Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona, and while it’s a minor move in the grand scheme of things, it does open the door to several scenarios moving forward.

How good this deal turns out to be largely depends on whether or not the trade truly was the first move in an aggressive offseason. If the Indians return to their 2011-2012 hot stove league recalcitrance, than this deal really doesn’t do much of anything in the long run.

If you remember (and really, how could you not), the Indians quickly traded for Derek Lowe on Halloween in 2011 in what should have been a first of many moves to improve both the starting rotation and several other positions that needed both upgrades and filled.  General Manager Chris Antonetti then backed off and really didn’t do much of anything other than trade for bad players (Aaron “Freakin’” Cunningham), re-sign the injured (Grady Sizemore), pretend to go after players that had either already said no (Carlos Beltran), or needed more years (Josh Willingham), and ultimately signed a variety of misfit toys (Ryan Spilborghs & Casey Kotchman).

Is this move the start of another 2011, or has the influx of Terry Francona and his new coaching staff provided enough influx of a new culture that there is more to this deal than meets the eye? It’s hard to say, but let’s take a look at the trade, and in particular, what it could mean for the Indians going forward.

The Indians and Terry Francona plan to use Aviles as an uber-utility player, that can fill in everywhere around the diamond. At the trade deadline in 2011, the Red Sox and Terry Francona traded right-handed reliever Kendal Volz, and infielder Yamaico Navarro to acquire Aviles. Aviles was picked up as a clear utility player for the Red Sox. Aviles had a .944 OPS at the time of the deal against left-handed pitching, and while he was struggling offensively overall with a .222 average, he had a stout .309/.344/.600 slash-line against lefties.

That’s exactly the role the he played in 2011, as he played games at shortstop, third base, right field, second base and left field in the month of August. The Red Sox were struggling with injuries at the time, but Aviles didn’t have a regular position to start with, even with Kevin Youkilis out for a stint on the DL that month.

That would all change in September as the Red Sox lead began to dwindle, and a struggling Kevin Youkilis would return to the DL in mid-September. Avilies took over for Youkilis as the regular third baseman. Overall, Avilies would have a slash-line of .317/.340/.436 with the Sox that year in that multi-faceted role, and he hit .333 against lefties.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Indians have acquired him as a glue player who will see regular at bats in several positions throughout the season. These are players that Terry Francona loves (think Marco Scutaro), which likely means that guys like Brett Lillibridge and Jason Donald aren’t long for the duration with regards to the Indians future plans. It also could mean that guys like Jared Goedert and Cord Phelps become nothing but bench fodder for the foreseeable future, as it would appear that Aviles would be the primary recipient of any injury in the infield, and would even be a potential platoon candidate in the outfield.

The Indians acquired Aviles to become their primary infield utility player. While this is similar to the previous option, it is slightly different. In this role, Aviles would find himself playing four or five nights a week, and utilized 95% of the time in the infield.

He becomes an obvious candidate to spell Lonnie Chisenhall at third base as a platoon option against left-handed pitching. I do feel that Chisenhall needs to get most of the at bats at third against both right and left-handed pitchers, but a guy like Avilies can take some of the pressure off by splitting the left-handed at bats with the Tribe’s future third baseman. Remember, Chisenhall hit .184 against lefties last year, while throwing out a .298/.348/.500 slashline against righties, with five homers and 15 RBI in 41 games. Aviles had a .286/.325/.429 slashline against lefties, with five homers and 15 RBI in 65 games.

When he’s not spelling Chisenhall, he can pencil himself into the lineup once a week for both Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, providing both with an opportunity to stay fresh for an entire season.  I do feel like Cabrera’s offseason workout regimen is the key reason to his struggles, and I equally feel that the mounting pressure of carrying a team weighed heavily on Kipnis, but a player like Aviles can help with the day-to-day grind of an 162-games season.

I do think you would still see Aviles play a game or two in the outfield, but think Jamey Carroll in 2008 and 2009, who played 11 total games in the outfield in emergency situations.

The Indians acquired Aviles to become the full-time shortstop after they deal Asdrubal Cabrera this offseason. This is the least likely of scenarios, although I think it’s more plausible than people think.

It all depends on what the Indians really are planning to do here in 2013, and it’s not as black or white as people think. Most think that the Indians either are going to try and contend in 2013, or build something for another window starting next season. It’s a little more murky to me, as I do believe the Indians could try and win with a few different 2013 scenarios.

Asdrubal Cabrera is the key to both.

If they keep Cabrera for the entire season, it’s likely that the Indians are going to add pieces to the current team by signing free agents, and trading from the likely candidates (Chris Perez, Shin-Soo Choo) or the fringish players (Esmil Rogers, Joe Smith).

If they deal Cabrera, they are either looking to contend in 2014, or are simply changing their approach for winning in 2013. Mike Aviles is a guy that can help with that. At 31 and with a sub-2 WAR, he’s not a long-term, full-time shortstop in the bigs. Among the full time shortstops in 2012, he was among the worst with regards to WAR, according to fangraphs, and a full win below Asdrubal Cabrera.

The Indians could certainly look to Aviles for a one-year run as their full-time shortstop, especially if Asdrubal Cabrera can bring them an upgrade or two at another position. Take the St. Louis Cardinals, who have Rafael Furcal as their current shortstop. Among qualifying major league shortstops, the only one worse than Aviles was Furcal (1.8 to 1.2) according to fangraphs. If the Indians were looking to get a major league ready starter, Shelby Miller or Trevor Rosenthal could be a part of a package from the Cardinals, who will be hunting down a shortstop. I’m not sure the Cards would part with either, but both are major league ready, and the Indians would be crazy not to deal Cabrera if they could bring one of those guys in. Both have upper-90’s velocity, and Rosenthal can touch triple digits. Of course, the Cardinals would be just as crazy, if not moreso, to deal either one.

As I’ve mentioned before, Arizona could also be in the mix, as well as several other team looking for a quality shortstop.

But the Indians would need a Miller or a Rosenthal type player (MLB ready, and a factor) to pull a deal like that. I’m just not sure that will happen. Miller is their top prospect, and Rosenthal is near the top 50. He’d be the more likely of the two, and while he has been utilized as a reliever in the bigs so far, he’s been a starter for most of his minor league career. Joe Kelly is another name that’s out there, who played significant time with the Cardinals this season.

I don’t see this as likely, but if the numbers work out, it could happen. Remember, Ronny Rodriguez will be in Double A this season, and there’s no reason to think that they could target him as a possible replacement in 2014. I also really believe that Francisco Lindor is going to have a massive season. He’s really…really good, and while all the buzz is on the more offensively advanced Dorsyss Paulino, Lindor is going to be special. Could he be ready in 2014? It’s a stretch, but I really don’t believe it’s as big a stretch as some think. The Indians will take their time with him, unless he (or Paulino or Rodriguez or Tony Wolters) forces their hand. That’s possible.

Don’t forget about Yan Gomes, who if nothing else, is an intriguing player that can be another utility-type player on this team. Gomes isn’t an elite prospect, even though he was putting up some elite-type numbers in the minors. He had back-to-back seasons with 13 homers and 50+ RBI (in less than 100 games both years), and has a career .287/.344/.484 slashline. Of course, the first thing I think of when I see good Triple and Double-A numbers is Matt LaPorta and Andy Marte. The difference here is that both LaPorta and Marte were expected to be big-time major leaguers. Gomes has always been an overachiever. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be better than those two by any stretch, but I do like his versatility.

So what can this kid do? He can play catcher, first and third base, and has even spent some time in the outfield (four games in left with the Jays last year, so he can do it in a pinch). The Indians aren’t looking at him to be a starter by any stretch of the imagination, but he does have some nice intangibles.

Remember, the Indians current bullpen coach, Kevin Cash, was a scout for the Blue Jays last season, and really liked him a lot. As good as his numbers are, and as many accolades he gets from the coaches, his ceiling is as a platoon-player at best, and a part-time utility player as the norm. I do believe he’ll be the third string catcher behind Carlos Santana (who will, and should still start) and Lou Marson. He could be another right-handed back-up for Lonnie Chisenhall, and can even provide a platoon at first base, should the Indians go that route.

In other words, his ability to play catcher and third make him more valuable to the fodder that the Indians have acquired at Triple A in Matt LaPorta and Lars Anderson…because he can put up similar numbers, but at the right positions. Having a bench that includes Aviles, Gomes and Russ Canzler gives the Indians a much better support system than anything they had last season.

I could also see a scenario in which Lou Marson could potentially help the Indians fill another slot, should someone come calling for a catcher. No, it wouldn’t be a blockbuster, but the Indians are clearly looking to upgrade in multiple ways.

Dealing Esmil Rogers: What does it really mean? There were a lot of pundits proclaiming Esmil Rogers cured after his solid season with the Indians.

I never bought into that.

In four off-and-on seasons with the Colorado Rockies that included 70 ballgames, including 22 starts, Rogers was 8-11 with a 6.77 ERA. He has nice intangibles, and always has, but I just don’t buy into the fact that his 44-game stint washed away all of the stink of his previous time in the majors. I don’t buy that the Indians felt that either, and sold high. I think it was brilliant.

Of course, now that I’ve said that out loud, he’ll likely turn into the #1 reliever in baseball.

Really though, what does this mean for the Indians bullpen going forward? The Indians claimed flame-throwing Blake Wood off of waivers from the Royals earlier this past week, in a move that I would consider similar to dealing for Rogers last year. He’s a high-upside guy who missed all of 2012 thanks to his Tommy John surgery. A best guess scenario for Wood would be some time around mid-season for the Indians. He’s throwing right now, and is ahead of schedule with regards to his return, but I expect the Indians to give him time before returning.

You can’t really count on him going forward.

So, will the Indians still deal Perez with one of their back-end options gone? I think it’s still on the table, but I don’t believe it’s nearly as likely as it was at the start of yesterday. Yes, I think Rogers was overrated heading into 2013, but I also believe he filled a role in a bullpen that was top-heavy last year. I just don’t think it can afford to lose two of their options, unless they believe Wood will be ready earlier, rather than later, and unless they really believe Nick Hagadone is an answer, and not a problem.

In a bubble, I actually like the deal a lot. I feel they were selling a bit high on Rogers, and whenever you can get a potential everyday starter for a reliever, you make that deal every time. The key with Aviles though is that he’s NOT going to be a starter, unless he has to be. He’s the type of player that the Indians have been looking for since they let Jamey Carroll walk, and a player-type that Terry Francona loves, and has already dealt for in the past. He’s an above-average glove that owns a career .295/.339/.458 line against lefties.

In Gomes, they get a guy that appears to be in the mold of some other guys in Columbus in 2012, with a bit more versatility with regards to positions that they need depth in. If he’s a starter anywhere, than the front office failed, but if he’s a utility guy, that is a plus.

In getting rid of Rogers, they trade a guy that I just don’t think can match his 2012 numbers with the Indians.

What about Jason Donald, and more importantly…Cord Phelps? So, I don’t have much to say about Donald, since he’s been given several opportunities to stick to the big leagues, but hasn’t really stuck. Donald’s defensive abilities are similar to Aviles, as are his numbers in the bigs against lefties, albeit in a smaller sample size (.282/.349/.426 career slashline in 88 games).

Cord Phelps is a much weaker defender, with less ability to play the  types of positions that Aviles or even Donald could play, but I do think he could do it in a pinch. His major league numbers aren’t very good, but it’s in less than 40 games. Against left-handed pitching in the minors, the switch-hitter is a career .285 hitter (and a career .284 hitter against right-handers, for that matter), and has just never been given a legitimate shot at the big league level.

I realize that Aviles is the better fit in a defensive/offensive/experience model as Donald and Phelps, but if the Indians truly are cost-conscious, couldn’t they have salvaged a million dollars or so going with their minor league commodities instead of dealing for Aviles? It’s not a question I necessarily even agree with asking, but I’m sure some will.

Overall, a good deal, as long as there’s more to it going forward. I’m not going to hold my breath.

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Jim
November 5, 2012 - 3:08 PM EST
Aviles really fits in that John McDonald role...that Asdrubal briefly flirted with in 2007 (yeah...the plopped him in at third at least once that year)...then Carroll at the end of that decade...a multi-faceted player that can fill a role...and in this case, it's a significant piece.

BUT...

He needs to have a major question with regards to playing time...meaning...the players and 2nd, third and short need to really force Francona to have to insert him into the lineup...

If fans are ASKING to put in Aviles...than things likely aren't going well...

Andy
November 5, 2012 - 12:44 PM EST
I think this move solves a lot of the Indians' problems against LH pitching. Aviles can handle 3B/SS/2B while Gomes plays an adequate 1B with at least a respectable amount of power for a corner player. That allows Santana to DH if Marson is still around and stops Canzler from playing anywhere other than LF.
Tony
November 5, 2012 - 10:17 AM EST
Drew, no chance on those moves. Kipnis is locked in at 2B and if Cabrera is with the Indians he is their starting SS. Aviles simply brings them much needed depth at 3B, SS, and 2B and should play a lot, especially with no DH on the team which allows them to play Aviles, Cabrera, Santana, Kipnis, Chisenhall and others there to keep them fresh and give everyone at bats.
Drew
November 5, 2012 - 10:07 AM EST
Do you think there is any chance they move Asdrubel to 2nd, Kipnis to 1st and Aviles at SS? Aviles is probably slightly better defensively than Asdrubel and this keeps everyone's bat in the lineup regularly. It also means they don't try to sign a 1B and save the money. (Plus very weak 1B free agent class)
Tony
November 4, 2012 - 9:03 PM EST
Seth, I agree. Phelps and Donald are not ML shortstop options and is why they picked up Lillibridge. And he even proved to be a waste, though as bad as he was I am not sure he is THAT bad defensively. Aviles really solves their infield for next season as beyond going out and signing/trading for a first baseman, the quartet of Cabrera, Kipnis, Chisenhall and Aviles should take up 4 of the 6 spots in the infield. The other spot being the first baseman and the other being a corner utility type, which I think ends up being Canzler.
Rich
November 4, 2012 - 5:03 PM EST
I like this trade also. Indians definitely needed a utility player who could legitimately play shortstop. I, too, wondered whether Rogers's season was a mirage or a true step forward.
Seth
November 4, 2012 - 4:34 PM EST
For your last point, neither Donald or Phelps can play shortstop, while Aviles for his career has rated as above average at short. And that's where he's needed. They have in-house guys who could fill in at 2b and 3b in a pinch, but no one at shortstop. At 3b he can't be worse than Donald, who had a difficult time not bouncing the majority of his throws to Kotchman when he played there. But watching Donald play shortstop has been painful for my eyes. The '10 combo of Donald and Valbuena was worthy of nightmares (I have a clear memory of a would-be game-ending grounder going right through Valbuena's legs ... and Donald, it's a combined memory of him doing the weird slow sort-of-double-clutch thing he does where he takes forever to throw to 1b and the opponent gets an infield "single"). I had some hope for Donald when he first came up, not sure if it's some of the minor-ish injuries and lost time that eventually took a toll, or what, but he's been a disaster, and at his age, it's not likely he's going to suddenly realize how to play defense and/or starting hitting well.

Regarding trading Asdrubal, it always comes down to what you said, how there's never a deal that makes sense, that one party or the other, or both, would have to be crazy. If they were positioning themselves to contend in 2014, they should keep Asdrubal, since he's signed through that year, and a team would be crazy to give them a prospect who will be more valuable than Asdrubal a year from now. Alternatively, if they're looking more towards 2015 and beyond, they still might as well hang onto Asdrubal, since he's (relatively) cheap, and hope that a.) they contend or b.) they don't contend but Asdrubal combines his last two first-halves and has a monster year and they can get something more for him before/during 2014.

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