When Mike Aviles first came up with the Kansas City Royals in 2008, the then-27-year old was a player who made immediate impact in the big leagues, showing a polished low-strikeout, high-average approach at the plate that was buoyed with enough power to hit line-drive doubles with regularity.
It made him a 4.4 fWAR breakout as a rookie then, and he has been unable to regain that offensive form since.
Though his .748 OPS 2010 was pretty good, one could argue that the closest Aviles ever got back to the .833 OPS that he put up as a rookie actually came at a very particular time: when he joined the Boston Red Sox in the middle of in 2011 as a reserve, during then-manager Terry Francona‘s final days with the team.
In those 38 games Aviles played under Francona, the utility man put up a .317/.340/.436 triple-slash over 107 PA, with a .339 wOBA and 107 wRC+ that represented his best offensive output other than the numbers he had in his regular season.
Then in 2012, Francona was gone, and Aviles’ numbers went back to a below-average .663 OPS.
That the sample of his resurgence was so small almost certainly means it’s coincidental, but just in case it isn’t, the Cleveland Indians will make sure that the player-manager combo will stick together for a little while, after the team recently avoided arbitration with Aviles with a two-year, $6 million contract with a club option that could see him remain a member of the Indians through 2015.
Now, whether the team had acquired the 31-year old with Francona in mind is a different story. Cleveland will actually be the second new team for Aviles this winter, as he was traded by the Red Sox traded to the Toronto Blue Jays to acquire manager John Farrell‘s services. Toronto then shipped both Aviles and catcher prospect Yan Gomes to the Indians for Esmil Rogers, a reliever that they coveted.
With the new deal in hand, Aviles won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, and will serve as the primary backup for just about the entire infield (minus first base) if need be. On top of being a good bat against LHP off the bench, he gives the Indians a bit of assurance from having an experienced player at the major league level in case either Jason Kipnis or Asdrubal Cabrera goes down, and it’s a role that Aviles has been accustomed to taking on over the last couple of seasons.
Aviles has said that even though he only played for Francona for two months to this point, that the former Red Sox skipper was “the best manager [he's] ever played for”. As it happens, those two months also brought the best out of the backup infielder.
Coincidence or not, the Indians are hoping the reunion will have the same result – and they’ll have more than a couple of months to find out.