The time has come to address a very difficult situation.
This is going to be a hard question to hear, and honestly, it is going to be hard to ask, so I will just come right out with it. Is Alex Avila the Detroit Tigers catcher of the future?
Or possibly more to the point, is the catcher of the future even in the Tigers organization?
Full disclosure, Avila is my second favorite player in all of Major League Baseball, so I have a very hard time speaking ill of him without wanting to apologize out loud afterward. I will do my best to remain as unbiased as possible (although he is currently my profile picture).
Alex Avila made his MLB debut Aug. 6, 2009. I remember that season very well, and you should, too. Gary Sheffield was released at the end of spring training, GM Dave Dombrowski traded for Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn -- both of whom were huge busts -- and the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins played in something called "Game 163," but I cannot expound upon that any further without feeling physically sick.
In his first game after being called up Avila collected two hits and drove in a run. The following day, he hit his first career home run. This started the legend of Alex Avila, and this was before anyone even knew how to pronounce his name correctly. Was it Ah-Vi-La or Aav-Yah-Lah? Who cares? We have a catcher who is not Dusty Ryan!
Hell, I even remember the Bless You Boys' slogan reading "Praise Avila" for about two weeks after he was called up. Maybe Kurt can verify this for me. (Editor's note: Yep!)
Since then, with the exception of an absolutely amazing 2011 season in which he put together a triple slash line of .295/.389/.506 (and 5.1 WAR), Avila has struggled to find consistency. It has been suggested that he was overused that season, catching 133 games and appearing in another eight. I do not personally buy into that notion, but it is worth a mention. He clearly leads the league in foul tips off of his mask by a large margin.
Avila has always been good at getting on base via the walk and calls a good game based on all accounts, but as his batting average continues to fall, as well as his percentage of runners thrown out, it is becoming increasingly hard to imagine him as a long-term fixture behind the plate. Since 2011, Avila has seen his triple slash line drop from .295/.389/.506 to .243/.352/.384 to .227/.317/.376 and his caught stealing percentage plummet all the way down to 17 percent last year. In the small sample size of 2014, Avila is still struggling to throw runners out and having an even harder time putting the ball in play.
In 23 at-bats this year, Avila has struck out 14 times.
his father, Al Avila, is the assistant general manager and vice president of the Detroit Tigers. I will not for even a moment suggest any sort of nepotism, but I would imagine that it would make it more difficult to begin the process of courting other options. Beyond that, however, there are not a lot of other alternatives.
Bryan Holaday is a serviceable backup catcher. But while he brings a bit of grittiness behind the plate and a small amount of pop in his bat, there's not much else to him. The team's top catching prospect, James McCann, is a good game-caller like Alex Avila, and throws out a high percentage of runners, but would contribute very little offensively as he tends to struggle with the same inefficiencies that Avila does. The rest of the catching candidates scattered throughout the organization look even more bleak.
And, with the exception of Russell Martin, the projected 2015 free agent class of catchers leaves very little to be desired. (Personally, I believe Martin would be a great fit.)
The question then needs to be asked: If Alex Avila continues to struggle, does the front office look for a solution externally? The problem is, even if the answer is yes, the solution will not be easy to come by.
But, hey, at least the organization has its shortstop situation figured out.