The Detroit Tigers have been frustratingly quiet this offseason. General manager Alex Avila spooked everyone in early November when he said that the team was looking to cut payroll — “younger and leaner” was to be this winter’s tagline, it seemed — but later backtracked on his original comments. Several Tigers players have drawn interest over the past few weeks, but Avila came away from the Winter Meetings empty-handed, further drawing the fanbase’s ire.
Now, it seems Avila and company have dug themselves an even deeper hole with the fans. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, Al Avila and the Tigers would be interested in a reunion with former Tigers catcher Alex Avila. The younger Avila is a solid, cheap, left-handed bat who, when healthy, would make a nice pairing with incumbent catcher James McCann. Avila made $2.5 million with the Chicago White Sox last season, and after another injury-riddled year, would cost a potential suitor roughly the same amount in 2017.
Problem is, as Crasnick reports, even a $2.5 million contract might be too expensive for the Tigers in 2017.
#Tigers would love to sign Alex Avila as LH bat to complement James McCann. But Avila made $2.5M in 2016. Even that's too rich for Detroit.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 17, 2016
Yeah. This could be a problem.
Assuming the Tigers’ sky-high trade demands aren’t met, their roster is largely set for 2017. There is a solid core in place on both sides of the ball, with just a couple of true holes* here and there. Unfortunately, those holes — center field and backup catcher — are major holes at the moment. The Tigers are currently looking at some combination of Anthony Gose, Tyler Collins, and JaCoby Jones in center next year, with minor league retread John Hicks next in line to spell McCann behind the plate.
*Sure, they could always improve the bullpen, but there are several capable arms already in the pipeline.
Avila would represent a significant upgrade over the unproven Hicks, and for a relatively modest price on a one- or two-year deal. Avila already knows some of the pitchers on staff, and is a perfect platoon mate with the lefty-mashing McCann. Plus, adding Avila bolsters organizational depth at a very demanding position. An injury to McCann or Avila would bring Hicks up, whereas a hobbled McCann/Hicks platoon would need to fall back on prospect Grayson Greiner.
But if the Tigers aren’t willing to spend on Avila, chances are they aren’t interested in upgrading their center field situation either. Their payroll is already projected to be above $200 million, and Cameron Maybin was traded away in November to move that figure closer to the $195 million luxury tax threshold. There could be something bigger brewing to fill the void in center field — a big upgrade there would make a McCann/Hicks platoon more palatable — but that doesn’t seem likely considering how transparent Al Avila has been this offseason.
It’s also possible that the rumor itself isn’t ironclad. The Tigers have publicly refuted certain rumors in the recent past, and nearly all of them have been related to supposed payroll restrictions. We may very well see the Tigers poo-poo this in the next couple days, and at that point you can choose which side to believe.
Unfortunately, this one seems legit. The Tigers haven’t been linked with any free agents thus far, and nearly all trade rumors have involved them slashing payroll wherever possible. Their pursestrings have been relatively tight over the past couple offseasons — remember, they were prepared to use Mike Aviles in an outfield platoon at this time last year — and look to be tied completely shut this winter. That this latest non-rumor involves the general manager’s son makes the entire situation all the more awkward and frustrating for a Tigers fanbase still uncertain of their team’s future.