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Trade for Erick Aybar a cautionary move for Tigers

Getting Aybar for Aviles might be an upgrade, but the reasons why it had to happen are not encouraging.

Atlanta Braves v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

For months, Detroit Tigers fans have gnashed at the thought of Mike Aviles getting any sort of playing time. While this seems harsh, it was rather justified given Aviles’ performance. He is hitting .210/.258/.269 in 181 plate appearances and has been worth -1.4 fWAR. On Tuesday, the Tigers dealt him and prospect Kade Scivicque to the Atlanta Braves for shortstop Erick Aybar.

Remember all that vitriol we had towards Aviles? Braves fans have felt the exact same way about Aybar. The 32-year-old shortstop is hitting .242/.293/.313 in 368 plate appearances, and has been worth -1.2 WAR in 97 games played. If we look at the major league leaderboards, Aviles has been the fourth-worst player in baseball this season (min. 150 plate appearances), while Aybar has been the seventh-worst.

Of course, it’s not that simple. It has taken Aybar twice as many plate appearances to accumulate as much negative value as Aviles. Aybar also has a higher ceiling, and is just two years removed from a 4.3 WAR season. And Aybar seems to have shaken what ailed him earlier this year; since the start of June, Aybar is hitting .289/.346/.396, a 98 wRC+. If Aybar continues hitting like this, the trade is a clear upgrade for the Tigers.

However, the real concern comes when analyzing why the Tigers had to make this trade in the first place. The Aviles signing was panned from day one; while the Tigers saw him as a versatile piece capable of filling the Don Kelly-sized void on the roster, everyone else saw him as the replacement level player he has been since his sophomore season with the Kansas City Royals in 2009. His poor performance in 2016 was predictable, as was the Tigers’ over-reliance on him when someone else inevitably hit the disabled list.

This also speaks to a more widespread issue. Nearly all of the Tigers’ free agent signings have fallen flat this season, with the exception of Jordan Zimmermann’s April. While not many could have predicted that Zimmermann would battle injury issues or Justin Upton would completely fall apart, the deals for Mike Pelfrey, Mark Lowe, and Aviles look horrible in hindsight. While this could just be the front office getting unlucky on a number of deals at once, it hints towards deep-rooted issues with player evaluation.

Trading for Aybar also brings Jose Iglesias’ health into question. Iglesias was placed on the disabled list over the weekend with a hamstring strain, but the team did not comment on the severity of the injury. It stands to reason that the Tigers probably would not have made this deal had Iglesias been on track to return in the minimum 15 days, though it seems like he is making good progress. Muscle strains can be fickle injuries to rehab, so we will see how long the Tigers are without their starting shortstop. While Dixon Machado is a capable defender, Aybar is a better fill-in if Iglesias’ injury lingers longer than expected.

And then there’s the elephant in the room that is Kade Scivicque. He’s not a top prospect by any means — ranked him 20th in the organization in their latest update, while TigsTown had him 14th — but the Tigers have once again plundered their already shallow farm system in order to fill a need many pointed out before the season began. We called Mike Aviles a redundant player back on March 7, and it appears to have taken the organization five months to come to that same realization. Now, the Tigers are forced to give up a former fourth round pick for six weeks of Aybar’s services.

This has been happening for years. The Tigers coughed up prospects for bullpen arms at multiple trade deadlines when chasing down their four consecutive AL Central titles. There was some pushback at the time, but the joy of winning papered over the fact that the Tigers were failing to adequately build their roster during the offseason.

If Aybar keeps hitting well, we could find ourselves in that position again. The Tigers are within striking distance of a playoff spot, and still have the talent to make a run during a favorable September schedule. Even if the Tigers don’t make the playoffs, Aybar appears to be a clear upgrade over Aviles. However, the reasons why this trade had to happen should be at the forefront of Tigers fans’ minds when evaluating this deal, and the underlying mechanisms at work here are cause for concern.