The 25th Man: Respawning Mike Aviles
For those who are unfamiliar, a respawn is a term used in video games.¬† It denotes what happens after a player dies prior to their reentry into the game.¬† Generally, a respawn comes with a time period of sitting out before reentry is allowed.¬† The most common occurrence of this event is in multiplayer first person shooters.¬† We will not be debating the effect of violent video games in this post, as I am not a behavioral psychologist.
Dayton Moore traded Mike Aviles to the Boston Red Sox on July 31, 2011. Greg Schaum wrote that he needed a new home on this very website.¬† The trade returned Yamaico Navarro to the Royals, who is now a Pittsburgh Pirate.¬† The question of why Aviles was traded rests on some critical points, which we will see below.¬† It should be fair to note that Schaum touched on one of these points briefly in the aforelinked article.
- The Royals did not have a ‚Äútrue utility infielder‚ÄĚ, by which we seem to mean a player who is completely incapable of hitting major league pitching for more than 50 PA but can play the three non-1B infield positions competently.¬† Aviles has never been a particularly good defender, though his deficiencies are far more marked as a 2B rather than as a SS.
- The Royals were enamored with the now healthy Chris Getz, who was receiving the lions share of playing time at second base that year.¬† The playing time Getz received was detrimental to the playing time Aviles received, as both Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas were occupying the other two spots on the infield.¬† Additionally, the Royals had just sent another player dissatisfied with their playing time packing in the form of Wilson Betemit.
- The Royals had a pair of second baseman in the minors who seemed likely to dislodge either Getz or Aviles from the position, regardless of who won the initial playing time battle that year.¬† Johnny Giavotella was triple slashing 338/390/481 in Omaha while Christian Colon had been picked 4th in the prior year‚Äôs amateur draft and was holding his own in AA.
- Mike Aviles had lied about a forearm strain in 2009, which apparently angered Royals management.¬† We should note that the injury occurred under the same training staff that was unable to adequately diagnose a torn rotator cuff [Jason Kendall] or a torn labrum [Coco Crisp].¬† That forearm strain lead to Aviles having UCL-replacement surgery in May of that year, but apparently Aviles conduct [play through the injury] was unacceptable.¬† It appears Royals management would have preferred to tell Aviles to sit out a few days before sending him out to the field with a torn UCL.
Aviles has a skillset that is not completely foreign to the utility infielder.¬† He hits for modest power, rarely walks, runs the bases well, and is a competent defender.¬† He received a two year contract for these skills from the Indians, who will likely deploy him and his helicopter bat in a utility infielder fashion.¬† His ability to not completely embarrass himself at the non-1B infield positions also provides the Indians insurance against an injury to one of Chisenhall, Cabrera, and Kipnis.
Following the 2011 season, the Royals began searching for a true utility man.¬† The following is a reproduction retrieved from a Craigslist advertisement the team placed.
MLB Club seeks power hitting utility infielder.¬† Previous experience as a Starting Shortstop a plus.¬† Candidates with 6+ years of service time preferred.
The Royals proceeded to sign Yuniesky Betancourt to fill the role.¬† Yuniesky Betancourt complained about his playing time while being terrible at baseball, leading to his eventual release.¬† The Royals have sent the same ad out this year, settling on Miguel Tejada.
These two players have an interesting set of skills.¬† They hit for modest power, rarely walk, and have been penciled in regularly at the position of shortstop when they were playing every day.¬† Their defensive skills have eroded considerably, but their previous reputations as plus defenders help blunt the criticism of that skill decline.¬† Both have been in the major leagues for quite some time, so they have been in major league clubhouses and seem unfazed by the bright lights of The Show.
It is interesting that the skills Mike Aviles possesses line up so perfectly with what the Royals want out of their utility infielder, minus the truest veteran experience.¬† Aviles is a better version of both Betancourt and Tejada, and his most recent season wasn‚Äôt spent either out of baseball or being considered one of the worst players active in the sport.¬† The Royals traded away a player who fit the mold of what they coveted for the last two years on the free agent market.
A principal characteristic of a respawn in video games is that you are stripped of any items, power ups, weapons, or general helpful things you attiained prior to your death.¬† In this case, the analogy could work.¬† The Royals had a fully loaded Mike Aviles and were riding high until he was sniped by a camper.¬† When they respawned a new utility infielder, they got the power and disgruntled attitude but did not retain the competent defense and above average baserunning. We do not know what the Royals respawned with at utility infielder this season, hoping that the appropriate time has passed to regain the items/skills/glory/ability that Aviles still holds.
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