CLEVELAND -- Two problems that plagued the Indians throughout this past season were offensive struggles against left-handed pitching and finding a reliable backup to All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Cleveland has attempted to tackle both issues with one early offseason move.
On Saturday, the Indians acquired infielder Mike Aviles, along with utility man Yan Gomes, from the Blue Jays in exchange for reliever Esmil Rogers. Aviles spent the bulk of last season as Boston's starting shortstop and he has a history of hitting well against lefties.
With that background, Aviles might boost Cleveland's depth, especially at shortstop.
"That was part of our motivation," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "The last couple of years, when Asdrubal has either gone down for injury or wasn't available for some reason, or we wanted to rest him, unfortunately, we didn't have that reliable shortstop alternative to turn to. With Mike, we clearly now have that."
Aviles joins the Tribe after already having been traded once this offseason. On Oct. 21, the infielder was shipped to Toronto as part of the compensation for the trade that allowed former Blue Jays manager John Farrell to take over as skipper of the Red Sox.
Last season, the 31-year-old Aviles hit .250 with 13 home runs, 28 doubles, 60 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 136 games for the Red Sox. He has spent the majority of his five-year big league career -- between stints with Kansas City and Boston -- as a shortstop, but he also has experience at second base, third base and in the outfield.
"He's played most recently as the everyday shortstop with the Red Sox," Antonetti said, "But he's played second base and third base and some outfield. It's his versatility that attracted us to him. He's a professional hitter that can fill in at a lot of different spots."
The trade might fuel speculation that Cleveland -- coming off a 94-loss season -- would consider trading Cabrera this winter. Asked if the expectation was that Cabrera would be the Opening Day starter at shortstop, Antonetti did not dance around the question.
"Yes," Antonetti answered.
Against lefties, Aviles hit at a .286 clip with a .753 on-base plus slugging percentage last season, compared to a .236 average and a .626 OPS off right-handers. For his career, the right-handed-hitting infielder has posted a .295 average with a .797 OPS against southpaws and a .269 average with a .680 OPS against righties.
As a team, the Indians finished last in the American League in average (.234) and OPS (.664) against left-handers in 2012.
Cleveland's current roster has projected starters at shortstop (Cabrera), second base (Jason Kipnis) and third base (Lonnie Chisenhall), but Aviles can provide insurance at each position. Cabrera is a switch-hitter, while both Kipnis and Chisenhall are lefties.
Last season, Cleveland cycled through Jack Hannahan, Jason Donald, Brent Lillibridge, Cord Phelps and Juan Diaz at various points as a backup shortstop. Hannahan and Lillibridge are both eligible for arbitration this winter and are candidates to be non-tendered, which would send them into the free-agent pool later this offseason.
Aviles earned $1.2 million through arbitration last season and is eligible for arbitration again this winter. The infielder is under contractual control by Cleveland for the next two seasons, meaning he will not be eligible for free agency until the 2014-15 offseason.
"He's a right-handed bat and he plays the game the right way," Antonetti said. "We feel like he's a very good addition and a very good fit on our Major League team."
Gomes hit .328 with 13 homers, 29 doubles and 59 RBIs in 79 games with Triple-A Las Vegas last season. In 43 games with the Blue Jays, the right-handed hitter posted a .204 average with four homers and 13 RBIs. The 25-year-old spent the bulk of his time at Triple-A as a catcher, but he also has the ability to play first and third base.
The Indians plan on keeping Gomes behind the plate, but like the fact that he offers some versatility. Antonetti indicated that Gomes could enter Spring Training with a chance to compete for the backup catching role, currently held by Lou Marson, or for a job as a third-string catcher with the ability to play some corner infield.
Recently hired bullpen coach Kevin Cash -- a former Major League catcher -- spent last season working as an advanced scout for the Blue Jays, and he raved about Gomes' potential behind the plate in conversations with Antonetti.
"[Gomes] has spent most of his career behind the plate," Antonetti said. "Toronto is an organization that is very deep, not only at the Major League level, but at the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, in catching. So Gomes did not have an opportunity to be a everyday catcher at every level. He had to earn his playing time and earn his at-bats, and he's done that.
"He's got very good arm strength and he's got soft hands. We have the benefit of Kevin Cash being on the staff. He's very familiar with him from his time in Toronto and he really likes him behind the plate. Our professional scouts saw him in the Minor Leagues last year and really felt he's got good, soft hands with a very strong arm with a good release."
Cleveland acquired the 27-year-old Rogers from the Rockies on June 12 last season, and the right-handed reliever became a reliable option out of the bullpen. In 44 appearances for the Indians, Rogers went 3-1 with a 3.06 ERA, piling up 54 strikeouts against 12 walks in 53 innings. He had an 8.06 ERA in 23 games for Colorado last season prior to the trade.
"It was very difficult to trade a guy like Esmil Rogers, with his arm and his stuff," Antonetti said. "But the deal made sense for us."