The White Sox agreed to terms on a one-year, $2.5-million contract with free agent catcher Alex Avila Wednesday.
The signing comes a day after Geovany Soto, the Sox’ backup to Tyler Flowers in 2015, signed a one-year deal with the Angels. Avilia, a 2011 Detroit Tigers All-Star whose production has waned since because of injuries, nonetheless looks like a good buy for the price and as a lefthanded hitter, potentially could get more at-bats than Flowers should manager Robin Ventura play it close to a straight platooon.
Avila, 29, has played his entire career with the Tigers. He played in only 67 games in 2015, batting .191 with a .339 on-base percentage (40 walks in 219 plate appearances), four home runs and 13 RBI. A bone bruise in his left knee put him on the disabled list from May 8-July 2.
Avila owns a .242 career batting average and .345 on-base percentage over seven seasons. He appeared in 23 games at first base last season, including 12 starts.
“Alex gives us a veteran presence behind the plate who provides solid defense and a productive left-handed bat,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “He is a well-respected leader in the clubhouse who we believe will make us stronger.”
Avila, regarded as a very good defensive catcher, had his best season in 2011 when he was an American League All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner after he hit .295 with 19 homers, 33 doubles, 82 RBI and a .389 on-base percentage over 141 games.
Avila and Sox closer David Robertson were teammates at Alabama in 2006. Avila’s father, Al, is the Tigers’ general manager.
Al Avila, who had indicated the club would likely part ways with his son after the season, told Jon Morosi of FOX Sports he had “mixed feelings” about Alex signing with the Sox.
“Sad that he’s gone to a division rival but happy for him as it looks like they have good plans for him.”
Alex Avila hits against the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the 2013 ALCS at Fenway Park. –Getty Images
Hahn said time will tell how playing time is shared between Avila and Flowers.
“The most important takeaway is this gives us flexibility behind the plate and allows [manager] Robin [Ventura] to play matchups where he feels it’s appropriate,” Hahn said, “whether it’s from an offensive standpoint with the left-right bat as we currently sit or from a defensive standpoint depending on who’s on the mound.
“Alex has a tremendous reputation as a leader in the clubhouse. Obviously he knows the [AL Central] division quite well and provides a nice balance from an offensive standpoint given the lefthanded bat and his ability to get on base and provide some power against righthanded pitching. In the end the most deserving catcher will be the one who will be in the lineup based upon on how Robin wants to maximize our advantages on any given day.”
Avila’s numbers have eroded since 2011, in large part, Hahn said, because of injuries that included a concussion in 2014. The Sox gave Avila a thorough medical checkup and are confident he will be a good on-base contributor as well as a power supplier against righthanded pitching.