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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mike Aviles was on a bus with the other members of the Red Sox offseason caravan, about to be dropped off at the Boston hotel where he was staying, when his cell phone rang. It was his father, Edgar.
Because he was in the middle of a conversation, Aviles didn't answer, figuring he'd call back, but his father left a message: "Scutaro has been traded."
|Mike Aviles worked on his outfield skills this offseason before landing the inside track at short.|
Aviles turned to one of the Red Sox marketing officials on the bus. "I think Scutaro just got traded," he said. "That's what my dad just told me."
The official hadn't heard anything, but soon enough came confirmation. Marco Scutaro, Boston's shortstop, had been dealt to the Colorado Rockies.
"It was kind of ironic that I was already in Boston," Aviles said here, recalling that January moment. "The next day was cool because I was signing autographs and everybody was telling me good luck with the opportunity."
Becoming the Red Sox's starting shortstop was not the opportunity Aviles envisioned when he headed to Puerto Rico for a couple of weeks this winter. The Red Sox had suggested he learn to play some outfield as a way to maximize his usefulness to the club. Aviles, who was born in New York but is of Puerto Rican descent, loves the island. Before they were married, he took his wife, Jessy, and her brother to Old San Juan on vacation.
But this was a business trip, and now Aviles was left to wonder if it had been wasted time, taking fly balls for two weeks.
"In all honesty, at first I thought it was wasted because it took time away from my family," he said, "but the more I thought about it, it actually helped me out. Instead of being at home lifting weights, I was in Puerto Rico, seeing pitches, getting my swings, playing. So when I came to camp, it was a lot easier to get into the flow of things as far as my swing. I didn't feel like I was searching. I was already comfortable.
"And on top of that, for whatever reason if I ever have to play outfield, I already know how. I'm not learning on the fly anymore. I already understand how the ball usually moves, my jumps and reads and all of that stuff. So if I have to go in there at some point, it might take a split second to get back to normal, but I won't be as lost in the dark as I would have been if I didn't go."
Aviles has had some practice in adapting to changes of plans. In 2008, he had burst onto the scene in Kansas City by batting .325, the third-highest average by a rookie in 20 years. But the next season he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, and when he returned in 2010 it was as a second baseman, his arm not yet strong enough to make the throw from short.
With the start of the 2011 season came another position, third base. Aviles was the Royals' Opening Day starter at third, with the team electing to go with Chris Getz at second and trading for a new shortstop, Alcides Escobar.
The new gig didn't last long. Soon Aviles was losing time at third to Wilson Betemit and filling in on occasion at second. He didn't adjust well to being a backup and was batting just .213 when the Royals demoted him to the minors.
At that moment, Aviles' career prospects looked dim: 30 years old, unable to keep a job with the lowly Royals and back in the minors?
"Getting sent down was actually the best thing that ever happened to me," Aviles said, "because it changed my focus. It let me realize that you've got to do the things you have to do to further your career. So I went down [to Triple-A Omaha] and played every day at short.
"I pretty much told myself, 'If I'm not part of the plan, that's OK. Let me do something with maybe another team watching, you never know.' And it just so happens there was."
That team was the Red Sox, who acquired Aviles just before the trading deadline as infield depth with Jed Lowrie hurt. Then Kevin Youkilis went down and Aviles played much more than he expected, starting in 23 of the 38 games in which he played and batting .317 with a .340 on-base percentage and .436 slugging percentage.
He played eight games at short for the Red Sox, starting six, a showing that certainly did not presage a trade of Scutaro. Indeed, after the season, the Sox picked up the $6 million option they held on Scutaro and told Aviles to pack an outfielder's glove.
But then came January, wrist surgery for Carl Crawford and the need for Ben Cherington to free up some more money to sign another outfielder and possibly a pitcher. The Red Sox looked at their options and decided that at 36, Scutaro might be slipping, and they could replace his production another way. They had already added a backup infielder and above-average defender in Nick Punto, they had a gifted glove in rookie Jose Iglesias and they had Mike Aviles.
Mike Aviles? The guy who couldn't even make the Royals? Aviles knew what people were thinking.
"Personally, I like that," he said. "I like when people think that way because it just gives me something to prove at the end of year. If I finish the year and have a good year, nobody's going to have those doubts anymore. And then it's going to be like, 'Oh yeah, I knew he could do that.' In reality, no. Most people don't realize what kind of player I really am. It's my job to go out there and show them."
Say this for Aviles: He has a clear vision of what he is as a player and doesn't oversell.
"I like to play hard," he said. "I've never said I'm a superstar. I'm not the worst player in the world. I'm not the best player in the world. I've got a lot of average tools and I like to maximize everything I've got.
"Anytime you're not a superstar, there's always going to be a question whether you can hit or whether you can field the position. I'm not going to say I'm going to be a spectacular shortstop, because I'm a realist, but I'm going to make the routine plays. If you make any that are special, that's gravy.
"I'm going to make the routine plays and try to protect the ball and move forward. I'm not going to try to be somebody I'm not. I'm going to be me."
And while he obviously has a vested interest, Aviles offers a sensible rationale for why the Red Sox should not rush Iglesias.
"A guy like Iggy has a very, very bright future," he said. "You're kind of tempted to throw him in the fire and just roll with it.
"But this team is built to win right this second and a guy like Iggy, if he gets that little bit more seasoning, you'll be making sure when he comes back he's not going to be sent back down, because that can be hard on younger players. You take it personal, you question yourself, 'Am I really good enough?' With a guy like him, with the ability he has, you don't want him to go through that."
Professional jealousy? Hardly.
"I've been around Iggy just a short period of time and I've never seen a guy pick the ball the way he picks the ball," Aviles said. "I can sit there and laugh every time he does something with the glove."
Aviles is just as entertained as everyone else when Iglesias flips the ball to second with the back of his glove, all in one motion. "I try to get him to do that all the time in practice," he said. "It's unbelievable.
"Ozzie Smith is Ozzie Smith, but you watch Iggy do some stuff on defense, you're kind of in awe. You're like, 'Whoa, this kid is special.' He's going to have a long career, a very long career."
The Sox have dropped enough hints this spring that they agree with Aviles, though Iglesias is being given the chance to change some minds. In the meantime, Aviles says, the Sox should opt for reliable over spectacular. He knows just the man for the job.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.