The Indians signed Mike Aviles to a two-year contract Thursday to keep their arbitration streak intact, but the club’s designated hitter direction still remains unclear.
Cleveland has not signed a replacement for longtime DH Travis Hafner and could enter the season without a roster spot devoted to the position on a full-time basis.
“We’re still open, if there is the right fit, but we feel good about the alternatives we have already in place,” Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said.
The Indians couldn’t find the right fit in Jim Thome, with the club reportedly no longer interested in signing Cleveland’s all-time home run hitter. Thome, a 42-year-old free agent, was limited to eight homers in 58 games for Philadelphia and Baltimore last year.
As of now, the Indians appear prepared to handle the DH duties by committee, with a number of spring invitees in the mix to win the full-time job with a big exhibition season performance.
Aviles, a bench player, would be a candidate for at-bats in the spot after agreeing to a $6 million, two-year contract with a club option for the 2015 season. He was the only remaining arbitration eligible player on Cleveland’s roster. The Indians also signed left-hander Rich Hill to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp.
“We are very pleased to reach an agreement with Mike and avoid arbitration,” said Antonetti, whose team hasn’t gone to an arbitration hearing since 1991. “But as important as that is solidifying Mike’s place on the club for the next two years, we think he’ll be a valuable part of our team moving forward.”
The 31-year-old Aviles, who was obtained in an offseason trade for Esmil Rogers, was Boston’s primary starter at shortstop last year, batting .250 with 13 homers and 60 RBIs in 136 games. Though he was signed as a utility player, Antonetti sees Aviles in the lineup on a regular basis.
“We’re comfortable playing him anywhere — second base, shortstop, third base or either of the corner outfield spots,” Antonetti said. “It’s a guy that has tremendous versatility. We’ll do what we can do to get him in the lineup as much as possible.”
Aviles’ presence also gives the Indians insurance should they part ways with two-time All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Cleveland reportedly shopped Cabrera this offseason, with his name surfacing in a number of prospective trade rumors.
There have been weight issues with Cabrera and he has faded during the second half of the season the past two years.
Antonetti said the eight-year veteran Hill, 32, would compete for a spot in Cleveland’s bullpen. He became a reliever with Boston in 2010 before undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery the following year. Hill posted a 1.83 ERA for the Red Sox last year, but was limited to 25 appearances by two trips to the disabled list that stemmed from his 2011 surgery.
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