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Picking up Aviles’ option goes beyond the numbers

Aviles’ value to Cleveland comes from his versatility, not just his numbers

Picking up Aviles’ option goes beyond the numbers
Mike Aviles (Photo: Mark Duncan/AP)
October 24, 2014
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Strictly based on the numbers, Cleveland exercising utility man Mike Aviles’ $3.5 million option for 2015 makes no sense.

Going beyond the surface numbers, however, shows why the move is defensible.

No one will ever confuse Aviles with an impact player. His offense over the past three seasons has been remarkably consistent, with the 33-year-old posting the following lines:

  • 2012: .250/.282/.381 line, 75 wRC+
  • 2013: .252/.282/.368 line, 79 wRC+
  • 2014: .247/.273/.343 line, 74 wRC+

What we have here is a player who is consistently below-average and adds next to nothing from his bat. Even giving Aviles credit for being able to play shortstop -- a position that does not require as much offense -- does not bail him out.

Major league shortstops posted a .251/.306/.363 line and 87 wRC+ in 2014, marks that still leave Aviles decidedly below-average offensively. Plus, Aviles is not a full-time shortstop, spending only 15 games there in 2014. Aviles’ other positions he played more frequently have higher thresholds for offensive success, driving the utility man’s value even farther down.

That value bottoms out around replacement level, with Fangraphs rating him out at exactly 0.0 WAR in his two seasons in Cleveland (Baseball-Reference is slightly kinder, scoring him at 0.6 WAR). The definition of a replacement level player is one that can be had for next-to-no cost, and given that Aviles has essentially played at that level, the idea of paying him $3.5 million for something a decent Triple-A player could feasibly replicate seems nonsensical.

But that is where going beyond Aviles’ raw WAR total can make sense of picking up his option. Aviles may not hit much or have an Andrelton Simmons-like reputation in the field, but he adds hidden value in another way.

Aviles’ real value to Cleveland is his insane versatility. Just last season alone, Aviles logged time at second base, shortstop, third base, left field, center field, and right field; also known as every non-pitcher position but catcher and first base. While Aviles does not stand out statistically, filling almost every hole a major league team could have is definitely useful.

Let’s break things down hypothetically position-by-position (or at least the positions Aviles can fill). Using each non-Aviles player’s 2014 games played total, here is what we have:

That leaves the holes as follows:

  • 33 games at second base
  • 15 games at shortstop
  • 20 games at third base
  • 62 games at left field
  • 33 games at right field

Those numbers add up to 163 games, only one game more than a full season’s worth of games. Cleveland would never play Aviles 62 games in left field and 33 games in right field, but if the organization was only allowed one bench player for each of these positions, the utility man would be able to fill  them all (except for one game).

Of course, no team would only have one bench player for all of these positions, allowing Aviles to not spend over half of a season in the outfield. But that very practical flexibility is where Aviles’ value shines through.

Aviles’ ability to play all over the place allows Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti some wiggle room with the roster. Whether it is keeping a position-less player like Jason Giambi around all season like in 2013, carrying an eighth reliever as Francona likes to have, or just having an extra spot to play with, Aviles is the one that lets it happen.

So while Aviles does not rate out well in WAR, his value does not come from what he does at the plate or in the field; his value is buried in his ability to give Cleveland roster flexibility and a mega-utility player.

Cleveland could replace Aviles in time with someone like Ramirez (who spent some time in center field while in Columbus this season), but there is no obvious replacement on the roster right now. Plus, not many young players are looking to become utility players without an everyday job. There is no metric for clubhouse presence, but Aviles’ willingness to fill this role is definitely an indicator that the utility man is a good guy to have in the locker room.

He may not be worth it based on WAR, but given $3.5 million is next-to-nothing in today’s game (that is only about four percent of Cleveland’s projected payroll) and what Aviles can do with his flexibility, it is not a shock he is coming back in 2015. More and more we are seeing the importance of roster depth and Aviles has it in spades.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@gmail.com. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

Ryan
October 27, 2014 - 10:11 PM EDT
@BrrrCold, are you lumping the manager in with the FO? Because I seriously doubt anyone in the "FO" twisted Francona's arm to start Aviles in RF. That was all on Francona.
pathofkindness
October 25, 2014 - 4:05 PM EDT
Finally, we get to screw Beane, instead of being screwed by him: Bourn for Donaldson!
nubballguy
October 25, 2014 - 3:19 PM EDT
Oh man Mark, you mean we CAN'T get CarGo for Bourn??? Damn.
So Swisher for Giancarlo Stanton is also a no go? Reality sucks.
Mark
October 25, 2014 - 6:12 AM EDT
Ummm, Jimmy! No one is trading Carlos Gonzalez for Michael Bourn. We'd be lucky to land a middle school right fielder for Michael Bourn's contract. The only way we get out of that is a straight salary dump, or for another bad contract. And we can't "sign" Beltre to DH" since he is under contract with another team! We'd have to trade for him, and Texas has dreams of contending next season, so we'd have to be sending some major league, or near major league, ready pieces back for him and his near $20M/season salary. We don't have the balls or the cash to pick him up.
nubballguy
October 24, 2014 - 11:07 PM EDT
I'm with Jimmy: "trade Bourn for Carlos Gonzalez..." Gotta love it! :)
Jimmy
October 24, 2014 - 9:50 PM EDT
I think that we should trade Aviles and pick up the three million dollars on signing free agents. We can trade Mike and pick up a young player from the trade. We have Holt, Urshela, Perez and Walters on the bench. Hope we can trade Murphy and Raburn before spring since I don't think they can beat out the young bench players.
Still don't think Swisher will be able to play and insurance policy on Swisher should handle his salary promised, Still think he should be new hitting coach.
Trevor Bauer grew this season and I hope we retain him since he will only get better. Don't pull a dump move like last year with Kasmir, who had a great season with Oakland.
Go Tribe. Trade Bourn for Carlos Gonzalez and sign and Adrian Beltre for DH.
BrrrrCold
October 24, 2014 - 8:02 PM EDT
Do NOT suggest he's capable of playing right field. See Labor Day errors versus Tigers - "meaningful games" as Tito would say. More bad decisionmaking by the front office that no one holds accountable.
Homer
October 24, 2014 - 7:27 PM EDT
@Vic Venom,

I don't think they would have made the playoffs without his contribution. He's pitched pathetic in the playoffs, no doubt. Don't miss my point, the Royals made a big trade to acq. talent using prospects / farm depth to make the move. It has paid off for them in a WS appearance. When/if Sheilds leaves they have Wade Davis remaining as a consultation prize and a first rd PK to convey into another useful piece (ie: Finnegan). My point, they are a solid model / similar situation to the Tribe. The Tribe has a young core, farm depth (FINALLY), and the ability to add a cpl 'safe' FA's. They could use the same model as the Royals and draft a qk moving arm to supplement the bullpen with one (or both) of their two draft pks in 2015.
Discollama
October 24, 2014 - 6:33 PM EDT
I'm from Ohio originally. I'm glad I left Ohio. Indians fans can be from anywhere and live anywhere. I come on this site because it has some of the best in depth coverage of the Indians, and that's hard to get elsewhere. If there were sites this good for other teams, I'd probably spend some time there as well. Originally I came for the prospect information, but that's now behind a pay wall that I just can't justify, but there's still a wealth of information here that just isn't provided elsewhere and I'm constantly encouraged when I see the authors on this site cite sabermetric stats and sources.

Remember that that's how you and I got to this point, I made a comment that justifies a man's salary through sabermetrics since the author said that you couldn't do it stats-wise. Your response was "Hey Disco, why dont you put the Sabermetric calculator down brother???" If you're against the changing game or enlightening yourself as to how the baseball world works now, then go ahead and bury your head in the sand. No one forces you to read comments, no one even asks you to either. But don't knock advanced thinking because it's beyond you and so therefor it must be silly or useless. Or maybe you should take the time to learn about the numbers, why they work, what they are used for, and understand that they're not scary, they're not taking away from the game that you love, they just give a more detailed account of what happened or offer better predictive value than older stats ever did.
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 6:16 PM EDT
"I am so glad that I left a decade ago." Yet, you are telling me I dont have reading comprehension? So, if you don't live in Cleveland or are a fan of their teams, why do you come on this site?
Discollama
October 24, 2014 - 6:05 PM EDT
Vic: I never lived in Cleveland, never said I did either. Reading comprehension, learn it. Additionally, you love to be miserable because you can't take joy in anything less than what you deem to be perfect. This was a good season with many flaws. Many of those flaws can be corrected without massive roster changes or crying over a guy earning less than .5% of the total team's payroll. Since the shakeups after the 2012 season, Cleveland has done well. There are flaws, they should be address to bring the team closer to it's potential, but there's very little to complain about. You just seem to make up stuff so you can whine.
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 5:50 PM EDT
@PathofKindess

"his experience and professionalism." :VOMIT: Who cares about this if he is a bum? I dont care about professionalism and his so called experience. I have experience of watching him the past 2 seasons and wanted to pull my hair out at times.
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 5:48 PM EDT
@Homer
Sure he might of have had some impact of them getting to the playoffs, but what good is he if does crappy in the playoffs and pitches poorly in the WS and costs them games they needed to win. What good is he if they lose to Giants and then bounces in free agency?
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 5:47 PM EDT
@Disco

So i love to be miserable because I want to make the playoffs every year and have exciting baseball? I love to be miserable because I dont sip Shapanetti's kool aid and dont worship the ground they step on? I love to be miserable because I see through the bull crap that this joke of a front office is all about? Have fun with your 85 win team that has an empty stadium the majority of a time.

Plus Disco I am glad you left CLEVELAND, we dont need you.
Discollama
October 24, 2014 - 5:33 PM EDT
I've come to the conclusion that Cleveland fans, and most Ohioans just love to be miserable. I'm so glad that I left over a decade ago. Vic is obviously one of them, and if Truth doesn't think that luck has anything to do with your chances in this game, then he must not be watching the same season that I have been. A team without any offense, an unimpressive rotation, but slick defense and a strong bullpen not only won 89 games and beating out all of the projections, but won their first eight postseason games straight to play in the WS just screams luck. Their WC game was luck. Every extra innings win was luck. Baltimore couldn't find grass anywhere in that OF, why? In part because of the stellar defense, but a good chunk of that was luck.

And if Joseph really thinks that we need a 30+ HR hitter in the middle of the lineup, perhaps we should again address the issue of the current postseason. No one on the Cardinals hit more than 21 HR's. No one on the Royals hit more than 19! Not a single Athletic hit 30 and only two of them hit more than 20. No Giants hitter hit more than 22. None of the Dodgers topped 27 HR's, and only two hit more than 20. Think Nick Swisher being healthy doesn't matter? He's never hit below 15% above league average from 2006-2013, so that argument really isn't valid.

Then again, most of the arguments claiming that one player sucks or that the team sucks really aren't valid. If you're not happy routing for the Tribe, go elsewhere.
pathofkindness
October 24, 2014 - 3:19 PM EDT
Well you've hit the nail on the head Jim.

Its his versatility, combined with his experience and professionalism, that keeps Aviles on this team, for the time being anyway. The kids are getting closer, but they're not quite ready, and when they are, and if they are successful, Aviles will be no longer needed. But for now, he brings solid value to this team and I am fine with this signing.

Clearly, the relatively small amount that people are getting so worked up about is not going to be the difference between success and failure in 2015. That is, there are MUCH bigger salary and roster issues/challenges to work through than Aviles and his $3.5m.
Homer
October 24, 2014 - 2:33 PM EDT
@Vic Venom

How would they have made there without him?
Matthew
October 24, 2014 - 2:22 PM EDT
With the latest news out of Tampa/St Pete, have to think this is a great time to engage the Rays in talks about Ben Zobrist.
C L Who
October 24, 2014 - 2:06 PM EDT
Make that: "when Lindor and Urshela are promoted."
C L Who
October 24, 2014 - 2:05 PM EDT
Aviles is versatile, but every position he plays could be filled by Ramirez, Urshela and Holt if they were on the squad. Just because the club has already decided that Urshela (and Lindor) won't open the season in the bigs doesn't mean is a right or smart decision. Thus, I don't see that as much of a justification to pay Aviles 3,000,000 more than his value based on production. (Also, he's only solid on D at second....marginal at his other positions.)

That said, Aviles is probably out in May / June when Lindor and Aviles are promoted.
Tony
October 24, 2014 - 1:38 PM EDT
If all any fan cares about is winning a championship or making the playoffs, then you are going to be miserable. Sure, the ultimate goal is to win the World Series, Super Bowl or whatever, and to make the playoffs, but there are still many other ways to get satisfaction out of your team's season.
Tony
October 24, 2014 - 1:27 PM EDT
Trebor, but that's the thing. Urshela and Lindor are NOT opening the season in Cleveland. The Indians already have planned as so, so with Ramirez at shortstop they have no utility option to start the season. Also, when Lindor is ready to come up in May/June, the Indians can then reassess the roster. If no injuries are present and Ramirez is playing well, then they can move him to utility and move Aviles in a trade. I'm no Aviles fan, but this move makes a lot of sense.

It is also important to not that he is a BENCH player. If he were good he'd be a starter.

The other important thing to note is that while the Indians can surely sign a guy for league min to do what Aviles can do, it is not so easy to find. The failure rate on minor league deals and finding guys with the right experience, temperament, and ability to be in such a role is not as easy as people make it out to be. Aviles is a known quantity. They know what they will get and how he fits into things. Any minor league deal for a similar player brings huge questions if he can excel in such a role and how he fits on the team....and even if he can play in the bigs.
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 1:19 PM EDT
@Homer How's that Shield's post-season ERA looking brother??? LOL
Homer
October 24, 2014 - 1:18 PM EDT
The Royals have had a very good farm system for several yrs. They made a bold trade for James Shields and Wade Davis, signed FA like Jason Vargas, Nori Aoki and Omar Infante and let Ervin Santana walk away. When they felt they could seriously contend they spent from their wealth of prospects sending CANT MISS BLUE CHIPPER Wil Myers as the primary piece in the Shields / Davis trade. My point, they made a bold trade and added 'safe' complimentary FA to an already emerging young team. Similar situations, there's a young core here, now they need to add SP depth, a RH bat or two, and another bullpen arm. That's not a lot to accomplish, I think plugging McAllister in the bullpen full time would (potentially) fill one of the four needs. The Tribe could reasonably have $10-15M to spend, so I'll go middle ground and say $12M in FA. That means at least one upgrade to either RF or 3b. Other moves (needs get filled) likely come through trade and minor league contracts.
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 1:13 PM EDT
@Walter
They didnt make the playoffs back then and they aren't making the playoffs now. Really no difference to me. Like i said, I think it's a JOKE that ANYONE would be happy with a winning season and not making the playoffs. Once again, most of you on here are Shapanetti sheep/worshipers. You all are sacrificial lambs.
Walter
October 24, 2014 - 12:57 PM EDT
Vic

So you rather enjoy year after year of losing during the 60-'s, 70's and 80's and early 90's. than having back to back winning seasons.

TruthSerum
October 24, 2014 - 12:51 PM EDT
@Disco
"With a little bit of good luck and good health." LOL at "good luck." What are you going to do you jabrone? Go to opening day with a batch of 4 leaf clovers and horse shoes? Maybe with a little of bit of good luck i'll hit the mega millions next week?
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 12:49 PM EDT
@Disco
Who cares about back to back winning seasons if you dont make the playoffs?? I know i don't. Are you that content with mediocrity? I dont want to be a fringe WC team, I want to be a team that wins the division every single season and has high 90 wins every season.
Joseph
October 24, 2014 - 12:32 PM EDT
You guys are delusional if you think we are going to hit better with a rebound from Swisher and Kipnes. Swisher's numbers have never been that good...unless he was in a talent laden lineup like the Yankees. And Kipnes might be a decent hitter if healthy but he is not the impact bat in the middle of the order that we need. Don't give this FO a pass. They have been miserable in securing impact players. All they do year after year is bring in CHEAP fringe players and reclamation projects...and hope to get lucky. You don't win this division by luck. The Royals have an excellent farm systems and made smart moves. The Tigers went out and brought in impact players (Cabrera,Martinez). We bring in .200 hitters. Lets get real!
Discollama
October 24, 2014 - 12:10 PM EDT
You mean like back to back winning seasons for the first time since 2000-2001? Look at what the Royals did, they built a mediocre team and made it to the WS. There is value in having a fringe WC team, and the Indians are in a position to go from fringe WC team to perenial division winners. Does the team need a lot of work? Sure, but with health and a little bit of luck, the 2015 Indians could be in the same position as the 2014 Royals. Kipnis' injury this year was something that couldn't be predicted. Neither was Swisher's knees going out requiring surgery to repair both. Jose Ramirez was worth right around 2 wins this year in less than half a season with mediocre offense. If he can improve on his offense next year and keep his defense up to par he can provide us with amazing value (for reference Cabrera was worth right around 1 win in nearly 30 more games). So if Swisher can return to 2013 form, and Kipnis can get back to at least his 2012 self this team will already be vastly improved. Hell, if those two did that this year, this team is likely edging out KC for the WC. That's on a team whose ace from last year was a total bust and played historically bad defense. There's a lot to like about what this more modern front office has put together. Add in a couple of pieces and subtract the weaker links to make room for them and the sky is the limit for this team.

You can't blame an FO for luck and I'm not sure when it became cool for fans to hate everything that their teams do, but it's annoying and stupid. Time to catch up with the rest of the world.
Homer
October 24, 2014 - 11:51 AM EDT
mark, agreed. The Indians were going to exercise that option. Apparently, everyone didn't know it. It's just how they operate. May / June of next it won't matter....they probably callup Lindor maybe Urshela too and flip Aviles for a RP or a prospect. It's really no big deal his $3+ M was not going to stop the club from making the necessary upgrade(s). Personally, I see value in his versatility and bench presence. Id rather see the Tribe pickup his option and trade him than simply let him walk away. I think a driving factor behind this outside of his versatility was the fact the Indians maintained their middle of the diamond depth. His option being exercised could represent the Tribes willingness to deal from their middle of the diamond depth in order to fill their need for RH bat or SP depth.
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 11:47 AM EDT
@disco

Yeah, because this "modern front office" has brought us a lot huh??
Discollama
October 24, 2014 - 11:40 AM EDT
Hey Vic, why don't you try learning how modern FO's actually think about the game?
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 11:32 AM EDT
Hey Disco, why dont you put the Sabermetric calculator down brother???
Mark
October 24, 2014 - 11:25 AM EDT
$3.5M for someone that Francona is probably demanding they keep behind the scenes, is not going to stop this team from signing someone they might have otherwise signed. To think otherwise is non-sense.

$3.5M is a drop in the hat, and when you figure we'd have to pay someone else around $600k plus the $250k buyout that Aviles would have gotten, the savings is a paltry $2.650M. To waste this much internet ink on something as crazy as keeping or jettisoning Aviles is nuts.

Aviles is the cost of keeping Francona happy. Is everyone ready to bring back Wedgie or Acta? Because if Francona doesn't stay happy, that's what we are destined for again! I don't want that, nor should anyone else.

When Lindor comes up, Aviles is probably gone anyway, so just deal with him until that point. Every year we see big market teams lose their starting SS or second baseman, and need someone to plug in there. Once Lindor is around we can trade Aviles and his paltry salary to them for a bag of balls.

Getting upset of $2.6M in MLB is stupid and a waste of time. If the front office was considering making a big splash (which, for the record IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!), $2.6M is not going to make the difference. Enough of this craziness over Mike Aviles.
Discollama
October 24, 2014 - 11:20 AM EDT
Additionally, why are people complaining about a guy that makes less than half a percent of the team's budget?
Discollama
October 24, 2014 - 11:19 AM EDT
By the numbers it actually makes solid sense. WAR is fuzzy math when it gets into decimals, but the standard cost per win is right around $6.5 - $7 million. With that said, if Aviles can return to 2013 form and post a .3 fWAR again, then that means that he'll be earning his contract. Perhaps you could get a guy on a minor league deal to do what Aviles does, but Aviles is a known quantity and there's something to be said for that.
Vic Venom
October 24, 2014 - 11:16 AM EDT
All I know is that in 2014 with runners in scoring position this BUM batted .223 and with runners on he batted a piss poor .219

2013 with runners in scoring position/runners on he batted .232

This guy sucks. What do people see in him??
Trebor
October 24, 2014 - 11:11 AM EDT
Your analysis of Aviles' value to the team is useful, but Jose Ramirez is just as versatile and can play the outfield, as well as second, short and third. By not extending Aviles, Cleveland would have an additional three million to spend on free agents and improve their infield defense by bringing up Lindor or Urshela.
Jolbert Cabrera
October 24, 2014 - 11:09 AM EDT
Mike Aviles is being paid too much!

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