I despised the trade that brought him here, but Erick Aybar is now our starting shortstop, and here’s the thing: he’s a pretty good player. Almost certainly a better player than AAG, the guy we got the last time we traded our starting shortstop and insisted upon getting a major league shortstop in return.
(For those who weren’t here in 2011, AAG stands for Another Alex Gonzalez, a play on the fact that he was the younger of two major league shortstops named Alex Gonzalez at the time, and there were also two posters on Bravesjournal named Alex R. at the time. I was the second of those, so I started calling myself Another Alex R., or AAR for short. AAG’s other nickname was “Sea Bass.” Unfortunately, there is no indication that Erick Aybar has a nickname that cool.)
Over the course of his career, Aybar has had a good glove. Not as good as Andrelton, obviously, but above average. However, his best years with the glove were from 2008-2012 and in 2014; the advanced metrics think he fell off in 2013 and 2015, suggesting that the new normal for the 32-year old Aybar may be a glove that’s slightly worse than average. Still, he’s a true major league shortstop, and that has clear value. He has also had a somewhat better bat than the average for his position. For his career, he has an OPS+ of 93 and wRC+ of 92; leaguewide, shortstops are at around 86.
Basically, he’s a borderline All-Star, worth roughly four wins a year, when his fielding is on. That was the case in 2011, 2012, and 2014. When he has an off year in the field, he’s an average player, worth roughly two wins.
Now, there’s some other baggage here as well. Erick Aybar is the just-barely younger brother of Willy Aybar — Erick was born in January 1984, Willy in March 1983 — whom you may remember from exactly a decade ago. Willy was a trade deadline acquisition in 2006, when the Braves cashed in their superutility player Wilson Betemit, who had finally broken out after having spent nearly a decade in the Braves’ minor league system. (The Braves signed him when he was 14, and were penalized when this was discovered. It was one of the rare cases when a Latin American player’s age was fudged to make him seem older than he actually was.)
As of July 28, the Braves were scuffling in second place, a few games under .500 and 12 games behind the Mets, with their streak of 14 consecutive division titles very much in jeopardy. So they decided to shore up their depth by trading Betemit to the Dodgers for hard-throwing former closer Danys Baez and the talented but mercurial Willy Aybar, a former top prospect who was still a year younger than Betemit.
It didn’t work out. Aybar and Baez weren’t much good in their first couple of weeks with the team, then Aybar went onto the DL with a broken hand in mid-August, and a week later, Baez went on the DL for an appendectomy. Baez wouldn’t return for the rest of the year. Aybar stayed on the DL longer than expected, and it turned out that he was battling alcohol and substance abuse issues.
His Braves career was over almost before it had begun, really. He did not appear in the major leagues at all in 2007, and the Braves traded him to the Rays the next January. He actually went all the way to the World Series with them, hitting two homers in the ALCS, but that was pretty much the highlight of his career. He played a grand total of 205 more games after the end of the World Series, and was out of baseball before his 28th birthday.
That’s all ancient history, but rooting for an Aybar brings back a lot of mixed emotions, mainly sorrow at this point. Erick is a good player, though the price we paid for him was disconsolately high. His job is to provide a bridge to whichever of Dansby Swanson or Ozhaino Albies is ready for the major leagues first, and he is admirably suited to that role.
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