By now, you know that Bryan Holaday is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball this spring. He's hitting so well that he is making the Detroit Tigers' decision to demote him an extremely tough one. Whether or not you believe that spring training stats hold any value, there's no denying that Holaday's play is definitely turning some heads.
Because Holaday is out of minor league options, Detroit risks losing him on waivers (i.e. for nothing) if he doesn't make their Opening Day roster. Unless the Tigers are somehow able to work out a trade with another team in the market for a backup catcher, they are at a crossroads with the 28-year-old TCU product.
There is another alternative, though. As unusual as it sounds, the Tigers could keep Holaday as a third catcher and cut bait with utility infielder Mike Aviles.
Right now, Detroit plans on keeping two backup middle infielders on the roster in Aviles and Andrew Romine. We have already pointed out why the two are redundant, so why not keep Holaday instead? Sure, keeping two backup catchers is also redundant, but Holaday provides more short and long-term value to the team than Aviles.
Still not convinced? Here are three reasons why Holaday's inclusion makes sense.
Holaday provides more offensive value
Is Bryan Holaday a better hitter than Mike Aviles? Well, he was last year in a smaller sample, but over their respective careers, Aviles has proven himself more. Still, Holaday has been showing much more value at the plate this spring than Aviles, crushing four home runs and batting a robust .600. While this production from Holaday will surely not carry over into the regular season, his offseason adjustments might allow him to hit for more power than in the past.
Aviles, on the other hand, is only hitting .217 this spring, and has only walked once. He is 35-years-old, out of his prime (if you want to call it that), and is trending downward. Holaday is seven years younger than Aviles, and still has a chance to get slightly better. Even if his ceiling isn't that high, it's still worth more than a declining Aviles.
Holaday provides more roster flexibility
You know who is definitely a better hitter than Aviles? Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Now, follow my logic here. Salty is a switch hitter that has some sock in his bat, and could serve as a valuable pinch hitter late in games (mostly against righthanders). Traditional logic would not allow a manager to use a catcher as a pinch-hitter at the risk that the starter gets hurt and you need another catcher. We may not agree with this logic, but it permeates throughout baseball regardless.
With three catchers, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus use Saltalamacchia to pinch hit at any point of the game for anyone, and not have to worry about a freak injury to starter James McCann. Yes, this is a reach, but if you use Aviles as a pinch hitter -- and you know Ausmus will at some point in the season -- you're really not giving yourself any chance for an impact hit.
Holaday provides (slightly more) defensive versatility
On the surface, this doesn't make sense. Holaday is a catcher by trade, while Mike Aviles is considered a utility infielder. However, when you look at advanced defensive metrics, Aviles isn't particularly good at any of the positions he would end up playing for the Tigers. Last year, Aviles posted a negative UZR at second base, third base, and shortstop. He simply doesn't present a quality defensive replacement for Detroit. Andrew Romine posted positive a UZR at each of those positions, making him the preferred defensive replacement for the Tigers. Also, with Dixon Machado a short drive away in Toledo, the Tigers are protected against a long-term to a middle infielder (knock on wood).
Meanwhile, Holaday has been seeing a little bit of time at third base this spring. We don't know how good he is at the position, but it might not matter considering how bad Aviles is. With a career UZR/150 of -18.5, he's actually worse than Nick Castellanos defensively.
Holaday provides more long-term value
Mike Aviles is only under contract for the 2016 season, as is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. While the Tigers might not need Holaday as a backup catcher this year, they are going to need one down the road, and none of their prospects are close to filling that role. They could go out and sign one next year, but Holaday provides a cheaper alternative to most veteran backstops.
Ever since Justin Upton was signed, Aviles' role has been reduced to being little more than a second utility infielder. Considering his declining skill set, he probably won't provide much value in that role this year, and then he departs at the end of the season. At the very least, Holaday is a cost-controlled backup catcher for four more seasons.