At the age of 27, Alex Avila is officially one of the longest-tenured catchers in the AL. Since being called up in 2009 and playing most of the 2010 season, fans around Detroit have had mixed emotions when it comes to him.
Initially, there was speculation that he wasn’t ready when he was first called up. During the 2010 season, Avila played in 104 games and batted just .228 with just 31 RBIs. It was believed that because of Avila’s father Al being the assistant GM, Jim Leyland had a little more pressure on him to make Alex his everyday catcher.
Avila responded to critics in his 2011 season en route to making his first All-Star game appearance, batting .295 and nearly doubling his offensive production from the previous year. While his production helped the Tigers make the playoffs, Avila fell apart in the postseason, managing to record just three hits in 44 plate appearances.
Tiger fans were understandably upset, but it seemed that nobody else in the organization was worried. Avila was playing in just his second full season, and the pressure of producing may have caught up to him. He was also never known to be a prospect to “wow” you with his bat — he was a defensive player that had a little pop, that’s all.
During the 2012 season, Avila’s offensive struggles continued from the start of his collapse in the 2011 playoffs. He barely hit over .240 and was plagued by injuries. Last season, Avila’s production declined even further and he appeared in just 102 games for the club, his lowest since he became a full-time player. This is a troubling trend for the Tigers and it needs to be corrected this season. If not, the Tigers need to cut ties with Avila and move on.
I say this for a few reasons, but mainly because the Tigers are designed to win now. With the massive spending increases on player salaries in recent years, time is running out on the club to not only make it to the World Series, but to win it — something they have been unable to do since 1984.
The second reason the Tigers need to part ways with Avila is the fact that he is playing on a one-year contract. In January, Avila and the Tigers avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year deal for $4.5 million. For a guy that has consistently seen his offensive production and health decrease, I find the contract to be a little much.
Yes, the club wants to reward him for his efforts, and he is capable of having a bounce back season; but what if he doesn’t? The one-year contract provides a viable option for the Tigers to cleanse their hands of Avila after 2014 if they choose.
The last reason why 2014 is Avila’s make-or-break season is because of the other options available to the Tigers at catcher. Victor Martinez has played less than sparingly since becoming a Tigers player, but he still knows the position. He caught three games last season and actually did well considering he hadn’t played catcher in almost three years.
In addition to V-Mart, the Tigers have Bryan Holaday, a young catcher from the Tigers’ farm system. In Holaday’s 16 games as a Tiger in 2013, he went 8-for-27 and held his own behind the plate.
These are just a few options available to the Tigers organization if Avila has another less than stellar season in 2014. It would be tough to see him go because he is a valuable asset behind the plate, but when it comes down to it, the Tigers have better options than waiting for a $4.5 million catcher to pan out.