One of the beautiful aspects of baseball is that it is often yields highly different conclusions by highly different people using the same information. Mike Aviles is such a case.
Jim Piascik at IBI does an admirable job arguing that his value exists beyond what is quantifiable, but more in that his versatility outweighs his replacement level performance because of his impact on roster flexibility.
Prior to discussing Aviles himself, and his value in relation to versatility, we must create a premise under which a $3.5 million dollar option can be discussed. At many points, I have seen fans and writers scoff at having a conversation about $3.5 million, concluding that the small size of the deal makes arguing over the potential value irrelevant.
It isn’t, as small-to-mid market fans will attest, moves must be considered at on margins were true value can be ascertained. Further, the Indians’ 2014 payroll sat around $80-84 million with an expected flat line for 2015. This means that Aviles will represent a little over 4% of the Indians payroll, perhaps more.
The size of Major League budgets, and the money being discussed, should not disconnect us from fiscal consideration. If one was preparing their own yearly budget on January 1, how one would spent 4% of that budget should be analyzed with depth and consideration. Thus, so must Mike Aviles.
Let’s discuss what if anything Mike Aviles is good at:
Getting on base? No. .299 career OBP, .273 in 2014.
Hitting for power? Yes and no. He has alright pop if he is only playing up the middle but when using him as a utility player at third and in the outfield, it’s below average.
Is he good on the bases? A tick above average but replaceable.
Is he an average to above-average defender at any defensive position? It’s a limited sample, but UZR and DRS hate him in the outfield. He’s significantly below average, which is not shocking as he was developed as an infielder. Aviles has also graded out poorly at third for his entire career. Up the middle though, he can play a bit, and is graded as average to above average at short and second.
Of course, range tends to decline with age, as it unfortunately robs players of the athleticism of their youth. Thus we can conclude that Aviles’ skills, which are already lacking except for up the middle, can only fade.
The idea that Aviles’ flexibility is a great asset due to his ability to play so many spots is fairly galling as he is a defensive liability outside of anywhere but second and short. Further, his offensive limitations make both his bat and glove hurt him anywhere but up the middle.
Indeed, if the Indians get better in 2015, it is obvious that it will include eliminating an exposure of Aviles to outfield defense. So we can cast aside the idea that Aviles’ versatility offers the Indians bench any advanced flexibility as it ultimately hurt them, and fallaciously allowed Francona to roster Giambi in the first place.
The next question is this. Could the Indians replace Aviles’ “value” or flexibility for a lower cost? I believe the answer to that question is yes.
Secondarily, this answer does not involve the relegation of Jose Ramirez to a utility role because he has the abilities to be a big league starter, and has proven that to an extent, but a further sample is needed before a conclusion can be made. Instead, I suggest the use of Zach Walters as a super utility type.
Lets compare their skillsets: Aviles might have a slight defensive edge, but it is one that is altogether negligible and Walters is more athletic, ultimately profiling better to defend adequately in the outfield in 2015.
Offensively, the gap is pretty large. They both don’t walk a lot, but Walter’s walk rate will probably oscillate between 6% and 8%, whereas Aviles lives between 3-4%.
Walters has immense raw power and almost absurd bat speed. If he were to play 80-100 game,s one could easily expect 15-20 homeruns, which Aviles just doesn’t have the ability to do. Walters has a better walk rate, and significantly more power.
The batting average gap is treated as a question. Walters has strike out issues, and there is no way around it.
However, Walters’ .181 average in 2014 can be tossed out the window as he was dealing with health issues late in the season and his BABIP was .188.
While we can’t always say that BABIP’s will regress to the mean or normalize, I without a doubt will say that it his BABIP will be at least .250-260 in his big-league career, with the possibility of .290 or above because of his bat speed and contact quality.
Thus, if we project Walters’ BABIP to normalize, a .230 batting average is a fairly conservative estimate, which combined with a decent walk rate, puts his OBP around or ahead of Aviles’ ability to get on base. Way more power, equal or better at getting on base, and an equal or marginally worse defender, with the ability to be better.
Lastly, we can discuss cost. Walters would likely be paid around the MLB minimum in 2015, which is just a tick over $500,000 or less than a percent of the Indians budget.
Thankfully, and I say this sarcastically, they decided they would rather spent 4% of their budget on a more limited player, who likely is less productive than his replacement. Also, they are relatively in similar in their versatility, at least their defensive skills as related to versatility.
Therefore, the notion that this is an irrelevant decision or lacks impact is absurd. Every roster decision opens doors,and closes others, further impacting an off-season path. In this case, the Indians further constricted their budget when they have tangible needs, which this money, while minor, could have been applied to. For instance, being able to consume a million or two more in a salary driven trade, or signing another cheap reliever or two with upside, or a player of substance to help at RF/DH or even to throw in on a low-cost depth starting pitcher addition.
Plain and simple, this is wasteful spending for a team on a limited budget, and also adversely affects the room they have for a player like Walters, who has the ability to offer far more impact with the same versatility. In this case, the versatility argument for Aviles simply doesn’t get it done.