Every now and then, there are reminders in life that professional sports are just a game. They may be a source of entertainment for some and a source of employment for others, but in the end, there are things much more important.
Mike Aviles and the Cleveland Indians received that reminder this season as the Tribe’s super-utility man had his focus diverted throughout the season to the support of his four-year-old daughter Adriana and her battle with leukemia.
Anyone who could have gone out and done their job at their fullest after news like that is a better and stronger person than I am.
On the field, the season was Aviles’s worst offensively since 2009, when the Kansas City Royals demoted the second year infielder just one year after he finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting with a .325 average, ten homers, and 51 RBI.
Aviles has represented the Indians all over the field since he was acquired in a lopsided trade for Cleveland with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Indians picked up their future starting catcher in Yan Gomes and the versatile Aviles, traded for the second time in two weeks after the Jays acquired him from Boston as part of the trade of manager John Farrell to the Red Sox, and dealt from a position of strength by sending pitcher Esmil Rogers north of the border.
The Indians won that trade.
Aviles has filled in admirably wherever Francona wanted to slot him in on the lineup card. He saw a lot of time in 2013 at third base as a right-handed platoon mate to Lonnie Chisenhall and picked up the slack at shortstop 46 times. He also manned second base a dozen times and played both corner outfield spots while hitting .252 with nine homers and 46 RBI.
The next season, he again was more than a part-time player for Francona, appearing in 113 games while hitting .247 with five homers, 16 doubles, and 39 RBI while matching a career high for the fourth time with 14 steals. He played third, both middle infield spots, and all three spots in the outfield.
This season was different as he became one of the first options off of the bench for Francona to relief a banged up Michael Brantley in left field, making a career-high 34 appearances and 25 starts in left field. With a healthy Jason Kipnis for the bulk of the season, he did not see much time at second and he was a liability at third base for the second straight season, posting a .912 fielding percentage after a .909 mark there in 2014. His range there was again below league average.
At the plate, he hit .231, his lowest full season contribution since hitting .183 in 36 games in 2009. He hit five homers, ten doubles, and drove in 17 runs, but stole just three bases. More troubling than the lack of offensive contribution was his self-defeating tendencies – he grounded into 18 double plays in 290 at bats. All three years in Cleveland were plagued with similar trouble (eleven in 2013 and ten in 2014). The 2015 total was 14th-most in the AL and second-highest on the team after Carlos Santana’s 20. Santana, meanwhile, played in 56 more games and registered more than double the number of plate appearances as Aviles.
He is liked by fans and by those around him in the clubhouse, but three years of declining numbers, costly GIDPs, and trouble in the field may all lead to the end of his stay in Cleveland. While his versatility and attitude are positives, the Indians have a cheaper, faster, and significantly younger alternative in-house already in Jose Ramirez, and that alone may be enough reason for the Indians to use the roster spot held by Aviles during the season to provide the club with more roster flexibility moving forward.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer