Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski's perfect record of avoiding arbitration will remain untarnished. Alex Avila and the Tigers came to an agreement for a one-year deal with an option for 2015 on Friday, avoiding arbitration, the team announced. Avila will be paid $4.15 million in 2014 with a vesting option for $5.4 million if he can make the All-Star team, achieve top 15 MVP, or earn a Silver Slugger title, per Joel Sherman of the NY Post. The buyout on the option costs $200,000.
Amid the cold and snow last week at TigerFest, Avila clearly wasn't worried about his yet-to-be-completed contract extension. In fact, if the issue hadn't been so glaringly obvious because of all the attention given to it, no one would have been the least bit wiser.
What was apparent however, was how much he's enjoyed playing in Detroit all these years. For 27-year-old Avila, who first made the club in 2009, playing on such a high-caliber team is something he truly appreciates.
"I take a lot of pride, I've been playing on a great team for the last few years," he said. "A lot of players go their entire careers without getting to the playoffs once, and I've already been three times with an incredible pitching staff. It's something I don't take for granted. I make sure I remind myself every day that, who I get to play with, you're expected to do well, and you want do well."
As far as expectations go, this extension brings a lot of them. He had an all-star year at the plate in 2011, producing a .295 average, .389 on-base percentage and .506 slugging in 141 games to go along 19 home runs, but for the last two seasons his numbers have been a mere shadow. He fell to a .243 average in 2012, and in 2013 a career-low .227 average. His .317 on-base percentage and .376 slugging percentages were close to the lowest in the team, including minor league players who made only occasional appearances. While the living baseball magnet dealt with a few injuries throughout the year -- most notably the concussion which placed him on the disabled list for several weeks in August -- that only excuses him to a point. Avila especially struggled against left-handers last season, batting just .139 with a .455 OPS against them.
Obviously something changed in 2012 and 2013 that caused his numbers to drop so low, whether Avila's injuries took over his ability to remain mentally focused or it was something else which he struggled with physically. The deciding factor that could turn things around for Alex Avila though, is the left-handed hitting coach Wally Joyner the Detroit Tigers brought on this year. Wally Joyner was a 16 year first baseman who retained a career .289 average as a left-handed hitter.
Having a left-handed hitting coach to re-develop Avila's talents will help ensure Alex is afforded every opportunity to correct his ongoing slump at the plate. It will be expected not only by the Detroit Tigers but by the fans as well that Alex regain some semblance of his former 2011 self.
Along with the responsibility to help fill the left-handed void left by the trade of Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers, the Detroit Tigers also lost their main backup catcher, Brayan Pena to the Cincinnati Reds. In his place will be Bryan Holaday, who played just 16 games last season at the major league level but batted .296 in them. As such, Avila realizes he has his work cut out for him in mentoring Holaday, but it's not something he's concerned about.
"I think Bryan [Holaday] will be a good catcher, good backup catcher, and has a chance one day to be a starter," he said. "The last couple years we talked a lot, he's learned a lot. He's improved very much, not only behind the plate but hitting-wise, and he's a good catcher. There's stuff I learn from him as well and you have to have that type of relationship going back and forth."
Avila continued: "That's what me and Brayan [Pena] had, but everybody's gotta start somewhere. Brayan had his start 10 years ago as well, people were asking the same questions about him. People asked the same questions about me when I came up in 09'. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He has the ability to do it, I've seen him do it and I think he'll do well."