The Detroit Tigers have been all but silent this offseason, but that changed on Friday. The team announced they have signed the former Detroit catcher, Alex Avila, to a one-year contract.
To make room for Avila, right-handed pitcher Angel Nesbitt has been designated for assignment. Avila returns to his former team for $2 million for the 2017 season, according to FanRagSports’ Jon Heyman.
“We like his ability to catch and throw, his familiarity with the organization, and his leadership qualities, which makes him an asset to the ballclub,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said in the team release.
The move is a quick turnaround from earlier this month when it was rumored Avila’s price tag would be too pricey for Detroit since he made $2.5 million in 2016. But with James McCann as the team’s starting catcher, the Tigers needed a veteran backup and Avila fit every requirement, regardless of his family ties to the organization.
In his first seven years with the Tigers, Avila bat .242/.345/.397 with one MLB All-Star season in 2011. After leaving the Tigers in 2015, he signed with the Chicago White Sox on a one-year deal and hit .213/.359/.373 in a backup role.
While Avila’s contract carries a bit of a lower price tag, it’s not unexpected. Offensively, he struggled, and he also missed over a month of playing time. He was pulled on July 5 with a right hamstring strain and placed on the 15-day disabled list. He was initially expected to come back from that injury on schedule.
However, after re-aggravating his injury on a rehab assignment on July 19, Avila missed another month. He didn’t return until Aug. 26 and hit a mere .152/.350/.413 in the remaining 16 games he played. His .732 OPS was largely boosted by a high on-base percentage despite his offensive struggles elsewhere.
McCann has his own offensive kinks to fix, but the two will balance each other out, with McCann’s penchant for better production against left-handed pitchers, and Avila’s ability to make righties pay. Regardless of the offense, though, the priority with Avila for the Tigers will be on defense.
Defensively, the Tigers just got a whole lot better behind the plate. Avila knows Justin Verlander and most of the pitching staff better than anyone on the team. Even in a backup role, that will be crucial for the Tigers as they enter a 2017 season facing an American League Central Division that just got a whole lot tougher with the Indians’ signing of Edwin Encarnacion on Thursday.