On Monday, the Indians kickstarted the Hot Stove Season by deciding that they had to have Derek Lowe immediately join their rotation. They made sure they scooped him up in a trade before anyone else decided they had to have a $15 million dollar, 38-year old pitcher with a 5+ ERA in their rotation.
All snark aside, the Braves were so desperate to free up a modicum of salary space (and more importantly a rotation spot for one of their young high-end minor league pitchers) that the Braves will be paying $10 million of the $15 million dollar 2012 salary for Lowe this year. So for the cost of $5 million, plus a non-descript A-ball reliever, the Indians will be adding a durable inning eater that is a ground ball machine. Lowe will join Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson in the rotation as extreme ground ball pitchers, which is fantastic if you have great infield defense…which the Indians do not.
So how does this affect the Pittsburgh Pirates? It could be a template for what they may do this offseason to augment the major league team for 2012 — utilizing their available payroll capacity to pick up a veteran at a cut cost from a team looking to trim payroll.
However, there is another method available to procure talent and that is to trade for players who may be non-tender candidates with their current clubs. Typically a player that is a non-tender candidate is such because his production has slipped and the team can no longer justify his projected upcoming salary. But in some cases, it is possible to find a player that may be caught up in a numbers game.
MLB Trade Rumors is in the midst of completing their Offseason Outlooks for each team and detailed who they felt may be non-tender candidates for each team. With the Pirates declining the 2012 option on Ronny Cedeno, I decided to sift through and see if anyone interesting popped up.
One player that caught my eye is Mike Aviles, currently of the Boston Red Sox. With the Red Sox picking up Marco Scutaro’s option and having Dustin Pedroia (2B) and Kevin Youkilis (3B) back and healthy in 2012, plus Jed Lowrie as the utility infielder, there does not appear to be any room for this mid-season acquisition. Aviles will be entering arbitration for the first time and MLBTR has estimated his salary for 2012 at $1.5 million. Aviles has had alternating good and bad years, with 2011 being a little bit of a down year for him. Through his first 3+ years in the majors, he is a .288/.318/.419 (737 OPS) hitter. Part of the reason for his fluctuation is production from year to year has been his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). For his career he has a .316 BABIP. In 2011, it dipped to .276. Aviles has had a fairly consistent walk rate of 4% and a strikeout rate of 14%.
Contrasting Aviles’ career numbers with Ronny Cedeno’s numbers:
Aviles — .288/.318/.419 (737 OPS), 4.2% BB, 14.2% K
Cedeno — .246/.288/.353 (641 OPS), 5.0% BB, 19.8% K
You get a little more contact with Aviles, slightly more power, and an equal walk rate.
Now as for the defense…
Aviles in 2011 primarily played 3B, due to filling in for the injured Youkilis, but he also played some SS and 2B. Throughout his career, Aviles has had a positive UZR/150 rating at SS, with negative ratings at both 3B and 2B. Cedeno has had much more experience at SS the past 2 years, with 2011 being a very successful statistical year for him at SS. Cedeno is the better defensive player at SS, but the gap may not be as wide as suspected, especially if Aviles can provide anything at all with the bat.
Aviles is appealing because of his versatility to play all 3 positions and potentially provide a (slight) upgrade offensively. Add in the fact that the Pirates could potentially control him for 3 additional arbitration years and his projected 2012 salary is $1.5 M and you have a very attractive trade candidate before the non-tender deadline.