With the World Series has yet to be decided, it feels a bit too early to speculate over which offseason free agents the Tigers will snap up this winter, but there is one potential candidate who becomes less likely by the day: Alex Avila.
The Tigers will need another catcher going into the 2020 season, with John Hick electing his free agency this past week, leaving the Tigers with only Jake Rogers and Grayson Greiner on their major league bench. A veteran catcher makes more sense than another young arm, so picking someone out of this season’s free agent class makes the most sense.
Just look at Kurt Suzuki, catching in a World Series with the Nationals. He was available for the taking last offseason, and the Tigers would be wise to look for a similarly aged and skilled player to pick up games and help guide the new generation.
If we use those metrics, an obvious name rises to the surface, one who is not at all unfamiliar with playing in Detroit, and that’s Alex Avila. Certainly a small subset of fans don’t love the idea of signing Avila, simply because he is Al Avila’s son, but the elder Avila has proven he knows business is business when he traded Alex away to the Cubs in 2017.
Since then, the 33-year-old Alex Avila has spent the last two seasons as a secondary catcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks. While he hasn’t had much offensive dazzle, hitting only .207/.353/.421 last season, his caught stealing percentage was an unbelievable 52%, the best it has ever been in his career. Yes, that was over 54 games, but compared to similar seasons with the White Sox and even Detroit, it’s impressive. He clearly still has the skills behind the plate.
What’s more, Avila has always been a good guide and partner for pitchers, and with a young contingent of up-and-coming arms in Detroit’s minor league system, both the pitchers and the next generation of catchers could benefit from a guy like Avila in the dugout and behind the plate.
The problem is, it seems that the Diamondbacks are also very aware of Avila’s continued usefulness. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Diamondbacks appreciate not only Avila’s catching ability, but his plate discipline — he had at 17.9% walk percentage in 2019 — and his left-handed bat. They also need a veteran catcher to back up Carson Kelly, so Avila seems a logical fit for them.
Whether or not things work out with the Diamondbacks, it seems unlikely that we can anticipate an Avila reunion in Detroit next year. But the team would be wise to start looking into alternatives that meet the same criteria.