Alex Avila has been with the Detroit Tigers for what seems like forever. He is one of the last remnants of the 2012 World Series team, along with Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, and has been the starting catcher since he gained regular playing time in 2010. He has been a constant and calming force behind the plate for Tigers starters and relievers alike.
Best known for his defense and, more specifically, his chemistry with the team's starting pitching, Avila was often underrated offensively. His best season came in an All-Star campaign in 2011 where he won the Silver Slugger and finished 12th in the American League MVP voting.
Unfortunately, as Avila approaches free agency, it appears that his time as a Tiger has run out. The 2015 season was a year of many transitions for the Tigers, and the catching position was no exception. Let's examine Avila's 2015 and how we arrived at this headline.
The greatest issue with Avila's 2015 season was a knee injury that landed him on the disabled list from early May until July 3. While the length of the DL trip was the longest of his career, injuries have been a constant for the former Alabama product. I have never seen a catcher take so many knocks on a game-to-game basis. He seems to be a magnet for the baseball. Here is Avila's complete injury history since 2012.
Because of the injury and his reduced role (platooning with James McCann), Avila only played in 67 games this year, well below his 117 game average from 2010 through 2014. When considering re-signing Avila, the fear of future injuries is exasperated by progressing age and the 683 games he has played in his career, including 141 (!) in 2011.
Beyond -- and, one would also assume, because of -- the injuries, Avila's struggles at the plate became magnified over the years. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging have all steadily declined since his breakout campaign in 2011. This culminated in an extremely depressing .191/.339/.287 slash in his limited action in 2015. While he has always struggled against lefties, his .133 average against them this year was a new low score. Offering little to no pop, Avila was a full blown liability in the lineup.
While Avila was either injured or struggling to produce, the Tigers' other catching options made big impressions in 2015. James McCann earned the nickname McCannon providing excellent defense while posting a respectable .264 batting average and sprinkling in some flair for the dramatic. Bryan Holaday also hinted he could play at the big league level, slashing .281/.292/.453 in his limited action.
Avila missed nearly two months of the year for a loose body in his left knee. He was never able to play fully to his abilities, and lost his duties as primary catcher. He posted the lowest average and slugging numbers of his career and lost some of what made him so special behind the plate because of his injury. With that said, Avila still contributed to the team -- both behind the dish and at first base -- and helped develop McCann, knowing full-well that McCann was replacing him. In the end, Avila stabilized somewhat and he enters free agency this offseason. He may not be back with the Tigers.
Expectations for 2016
The 2015 season was a lost year for many Tigers, and that included Avila. Unfortunately, barring something unexpected, this will be Alex's last with the team. With McCann assuming the starting duties at catcher, Avila will look elsewhere for more playing time and greater pay than the Tigers can offer. It is an unfortunate way to end his time as a Tiger after being such an important piece for so many winning seasons, but baseball is still a business.
Instead, let's thank Alex for all that he has done for the Tigers organization and wish him the best in the future.