Reporting Matt Loede
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Indians did what they always seem to do Thursday afternoon – inking a player to a deal to again avoid having anyone on their roster wind up in arbitration.
The last player to get a deal was one that could wind up being the most important early on in the Terry Francona era – that being utility man Mike Aviles.
Aviles inked a deal for two-years at $6 million. The deal includes a club option for 2015. It’s a deal that could signal the future of the infield for the Indians as early as mid-way through the 2013 season.
That future could mean the end of Asdrubal Cabrera with the Indians, a player that could find himself at a crossroads at 27 years old coming off two All-Star seasons with the Tribe.
It’s been two straight years that Cabrera has had good first halves of seasons, only to then go the other way in the final months of the season. Over the last three seasons, he’s hit .276, .273 and .270.
Not bad, but maybe not good enough long term for a team that is getting ready to take on a new look with a new manager that isn’t going to let players slide as they may have done in the past.
Aviles is a tough-nosed, blue-collar player who does whatever it takes to get on the field and in the lineup. He’s also a player that Francona knows well, having him on the roster when he was the manager in Boston.
Last season with the Red Sox, Aviles set a career-high in doubles (28) and matched personal bests in extra-base hits (41) and steals (14).
While Aviles is going one way, Cabrera now has an opportunity to prove that he’s what he’s been voted as the last two seasons – an All-Star.
It was easy for Cabrera to get in a comfort zone last season, not having to always look over his shoulder at someone who can be put in the lineup at a moments notice and possibly not have much of a drop off.
Last season Cabrera played in 143 of 164 games, and part of that was due to the fact of not having a quality backup to plug in when it was clear that he needed a day off.
In 2013, there will be no excuses. If Cabrera has an injury that could use a day off or two, or is in a prolonged slump that could use a breather to get his head right, Aviles easily could step in and take the lead for a day if not more.
On the other hand, if Aviles outperforms Cabrera for an extended amount of time, it could give the Indians the flexibility to take Cabrera and do what they did at the 2012 MLB Winter Meetings – shop him around.
At the end of the day, Aviles’ two-year deal sends a message to Cabrera, all current Indians, and the fan base. Resting on laurels will not be accepted by the top new Indian in charge.
If Cabrera can’t step up and continues to have the second half struggles of the past two seasons, the Indians will have someone in waiting, unlike in the past.
Aviles’ signing hopefully will give the Indians depth they have sorely lacked, and also could provide Cabrera with the motivation to take his All-Star first half numbers of the past two seasons and carry them into the dog days of summer.
If not, the team will have options to consider and a player that could give them solid value in the trade market.