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Fantasy Roster Construction: The player without a position

Guys like Mike Aviles might not know what position they'll spend their time playing this year, but they always know they'll be somewhere.


A friend of mine keeps a $20 bill tucked into one of her car's many cubbyholes. After noticing it there a few times, I finally asked her about it.

"It's for emergencies," she said. "In case I ever forget to go to the bank or whatever, I still have something I can use."

Sounded clever enough, I thought. Couldn't hurt to try. I took a twenty, tucked it away. Well how about that, I thought. Insurance against personal stupidity. Kind of nice.

Only, I couldn't make myself not use the twenty. "I have to go to the ATM," I would think, "but wait, no I don't, there's a twenty right here." My OCD tendencies wouldn't let me have perfectly viable money sitting there while I went out of my way to get other money. I couldn't forget the twenty, couldn't ignore it, and so I abandoned the notion after only a couple weeks and several temporarily-tucked-away bills.

Hey there, Mike Aviles.

Aviles started his career as a Royals shortstop. After a lost season to Tommy John surgery and the team's acquisition of Yuniesky Betancourt, he became a utility guy, shifting from position to position for a couple years before being shuttled off to the Red Sox in 2011, where he was slated to be the utility man behind Dustin Pedroia/Kevin Youkilis/Jed Lowrie/Marco Scutaro. In 2012, because the Red Sox made the previous offseason the Winter of Weird Roster Choices, Aviles became the more-or-less full-time shortstop, and as such qualified for the batting title for the first time in his career.

Batting title qualification is our easiest shorthand for "full-time player." It's easy, and by and large, it's super-duper accurate. But if you that's the primary thing you search for, you'll run out of players before you run out of fantasy roster space. In 2012, 143 guys qualified (82 AL), and that includes such luminaries as Jemile Weeks and Brennan Boesch. So the magic "502 PA" threshold is great, but limiting.

Aviles was never a true full-time guy before 2012. But that said, he's always gotten his use. In his five-year career, he has only failed to top 300 plate appearances once - in 2009, his second year, when Tommy John surgery put him on the DL for the only time in his career - and has had at least 440 three times. He's not spent much time as a regular regular, but he's been daggone close.

For his real-life managers, Aviles has been like my $20 bill - he's there, as an insurance policy. In theory, he's for emergencies. But his managers haven't been able to hold off on using him any better than I was able to resist my twenty. It's there, damnit, and I want to use it.

This year, Aviles is on the Indians. It looks like a Red Sox redux (which is a tremendously fun phrase to type), inasmuch as he's slated to utilitify himself behind Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Asdrubal Cabrera.

One of the ways to prepare for fantasy baseball is to play around with projected team lineups, noticing that oh, hey, Rick Ankiel might have a starting gig and is probably going to get a lot of time with the Astros. If you're punting on batting average, maybe Ankiel can be a moderately helpful power guy as a last-on-the-roster type. But where lineups can fail is when they cause you to overlook guys who don't have obvious starting gigs. Maybe you looked at a lineup before Brett Lawrie got hurt, didn't see Emilio Bonifacio, and as such didn't think of him as a heck of a steals guy. That's not to say you downgraded Bonifacio, just that his absence from a team's projected lineup meant he never got to the grading point to begin with.

It's the same way with Aviles. As it stands now, he doesn't have a clear line to a position. But maybe no player has been more involved in "will he get traded?" talk than Cabrera over the last couple months, and Chisenhall has yet to prove he can actually, you know, get on base or field his position in the bigs. While there isn't a clear job for Aviles today, April 3, 2013, he'll still likely get 3-4 starts a week at least - earning serious multi-positional eligibility in the process - and I can envision about a dozen different scenarios that lead to him getting full-time-or-close play. Heck, if an outfielder were to get hurt, I wouldn't be super-shocked to see Nick Swisher move back to the outfield and Cleveland bump Aviles to first, at least in the short term.

Aviles has yet to be a great player, or even a markedly above-average one. He's past 30 now, so he likely never will be. He's a guy. But he's a guy who will probably reach double digits in both home runs and steals, and he'll do it at lighter positions. That's not perfect, but it certainly has value.

He's not a mixed-league play - probably not even if he gets a starting gig, definitely not without one. But if you're in an AL-only league, Aviles can fill a CI or MI slot even now. And if you get in on the ground floor today, whenever he grabs a starting role (and I think he will, one way or another), you reap the benefits.

I give it my personal guarantee. If it fails, I have a twenty for you.

Well, my friend does.

Follow me on Twitter @danieltkelley