Retaining the super utility man shouldn’t be the last move for the Tribe
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As we all know, the Indians have picked up the 2015 option on the contract ofMike Aviles
for $3.5 million. At first glance, the case for retaining Aviles is not strong. He had a lousy year in 2014, he will be 34 by the start of next season, there are at least two great shortstop prospects waiting in the wings, and only four guys on the roster were making more money than Aviles at the end of the season, which seems like a misallocation of resources for a utility guy.
Still… The Indians started left handed hitters with serious platoon splits at second base, third base (Chisenhall was actually less than I expected this year, but his career trend is pretty large), center field and right field. Whoever starts at short will be inexperienced. So the potential is there for a couple of bench guys to be in the lineup whenever a lefthander starts, and for maybe four hundred at bats to be available for bench guys, maybe more if someone gets hurt. While you don’t want Aviles to get all of those at bats, you certainly don’t want Ryan Raburn (who was worse offensively in 2014 and isn’t equal to Aviles defensively in the infield) to get them either.
Aug 20, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Mike Aviles (4) hits a single in the second inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a tough call. If Aviles gets enough at bats to justify his option on a per at bat basis, he probably gets exposed and drags his numbers down. If you just play him once or twice a week, which is what his talent justifies, he’s probably making more per at bat than anyone on the team except for Swisher and Bourn. But if you decline the option, you have to go right out on the free agent market and get someone to do the same thing. Is there a guy out there who can play five or six positions and provide more offense or do it cheaper than Aviles? There is also the factor that Aviles is a good guy who appears to be content with his role and has contributed to the chemistry the Indians have developed over the past two years. All in all, it is hard to see the Indians improving or saving money by getting rid of Aviles.
Even if you think Aviles and Raburn will rebound somewhat next season, the Indians should be seeking more depth. They were exposed badly when Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn got hurt last year, and it is only prudent to at least be prepared for that to happen again, given their ages. There has been talk of turning Jose Ramirez into a super utility guy if Francisco Lindor is ready, but that seems like a waste of a talented player. Ramirez is only 22 and seems ready to be a full-time shortstop in the majors; if the Indians don’t plan to use him in that capacity he would be much more valuable as a trade chip than as a bench guy.
Here’s what I would do. Get a right handed bat to serve as a true platoon with David Murphy in right field, then have Raburn and Aviles serve as your reserves, along with Roberto Perez. There is not an obvious candidate in the free agent market to platoon in right field. Jonny Gomes feasts on left handed pitching but is woeful defensively, and the other candidates, such as Scott Hairston, haven’t hit enough lately to justify the investment. So you may need to make a trade to get a guy who fits. You have to wonder why the Indians were so eager to get rid of Drew Stubbs. Even discounting his Coors Field-inflated stats from last year, his OPS against left handers the three previous years was .795, he only made 4.1 million this year, and he could have played center field when Bourn went down. A platoon combining Murphy’s 2014 numbers against right handers and Stubbs’ 2013 numbers against left handers would have resulted in an OPS of .724 – not exactly Mike Trout, but, when you consider that many of those at bats would have come at the expense of Chris Dickerson, Tyler Holt, and J.B. Shuck, a case can be made that a competent right handed hitting outfielder would have gotten the Indians an extra win or two in 2014.
Sep 17, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) throws the ball to first for an out during the eighth inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. New York Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
As always with the Indians, this will come down to a question of how much money they want to spend. The cheap option is Zach Walters, who crushed left handed pitching in a short stint with the Indians in 2014 and did the same in AAA. Walters showed enough versatility to consider as a platoon with just about anyone. He has great power but would need to make better contact to stay on the roster. It seems possible that a platoon role may be the way to ease him into a big league role. If the budget allows, there has been some speculation about Ben Zobrist being available. He is a perfect Terry Francona guy, a switch hitter who can play a lot of positions, he is better against right handers but good enough against left handers that he would be on the field every day. The Rays have a team option on Zobrist for $7.5 million, but would be due for a big raise in a year either way, so he is the type of guy Tampa would be looking to get some return on. I wouldn’t give up a core player for a year of Zobrist, but the is enough depth in the bullpen and the minors that the Indians might be able to make an offer that entices the Rays to consider a deal.
Of course, keeping a four man bench limits the bullpen to seven guys. Suppose the critical relief innings go to Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Crockett, and Scott Atchison. Zach McAllister appears slated for the long job. That leaves either Josh Tomlin or Nick Hagadone for one or two spots in the bullpen. Would you rather have a third long reliever, so that Francona can match up in the sixth inning instead of the seventh, or an extra bat so that you can withstand Bourn’s next hamstring tweak or in case Raburn goes 0-for-April? Ask yourself, which of those scenarios is more likely to cost the Indians a game in 2015?