New White Sox catcher Alex Avila loved his time with the Detroit Tigers, a seven-year stay that included an unusual father-son relationship with Tigers general manager Al Avila, but he made it clear Monday he’s ready to cut the chord.
“It will be interesting for sure facing the Tigers again and going to Detroit,” said Avilia, who signed a one-year free-agent deal to join the Sox and stay in the American League Central Division. “It will be a lot of fun. Seven years is a long time in this game to be in this place. So there’s a lot of relationships I have there.“At the same time, I can’t wait to kick their ass.”The Sox will like Avila’s edge and clubhouse-leadership abilities, but they’ll value him even more if he stays healthy and adds offense from the left side of the plate to a position and lineup that surely needs a boost. He has been very good in spurts — some longer than others, likely depending on his health — as a receiver, thrower and pitch framer.At 28 (he’ll turn 29 in January), Avila isn’t ready to fade into the background.“Once I kind of looked at all the teams out there that probably would be looking for a catcher, I thought Chicago might be a good fit,” Avila, a 2011 All-Star, said. “And one of the things that was important to me was obviously an opportunity to play as opposed to being a straight backup catcher.“I had talked to [general manager] Rick [Hahn] and when we were going through the whole process, to me it seemed like that opportunity was going to be there with me and Tyler [Flowers] splitting time and letting [manager] Robin [Ventura] kind of use both of our strengths in order to be as productive as possible.”Avila said he’s eager for spring training so he can begin to familiarize himself with new teammates. His father, Al Avila, was Tigers assistant GM from 2002 to August of this year, when he replaced Dave Dombrowski to become the first Cuban-born GM in baseball history, so he’s a Tiger through and through. They drafted him in the fifth round in 2008.That father was able to let go of son (James McCann had emerged as the new No. 1) was just another sign, Avila said, that it was always about baseball and nothing else. Say “nepotism” around Avila and be prepared for a stern retort.“Within the family we joke about it every so often,” Avila said, “but the one thing that would always bother me about that whole nepotism, if somebody approached that with me even joking or half serious, I’d ask them, ‘Would you really think that Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski would have put their jobs on the line to bring me up in the middle of a pennant race seven years ago, just to please my dad because my dad wanted to? To me, it never really made sense. Trust me, I think it showed this offseason, if my dad thinks the team is better off without me, I’m not going to be on the team. That’s just the way it worked out.”The Sox believe they’re better off with Avila, even though he hit .191 (with a .339 on-base percentage) over 219 plate appearances, a far cry from his 2011 All-Star season when he hit .295 with 82 RBI. A knee injury shelved him for nearly two months in 2015. And he has a history of concussion issues as well.So now, with a clean slate, it’s time to kick some butt with the Sox.“Coming back from my knee injury and getting healthy, I could still find an opportunity and still be able to produce at a level where I could play more regularly,” Avila said. “As much as I would have loved to come back to Detroit, a baseball player wants to play. He doesn’t want to sit on the bench.”Here’s what else Avila had to say on a conference call with media Monday:On staying in the AL Central: “Obviously that will work to my advantage. I think I won’t be having to study new hitters as opposed to going to the National League or a different division.”On leaving Tigers:
“Well, you know, some mixed emotions. I wouldn’t say sad but just when you come to the realization that obviously something you’ve known for a long time is not going to be the case anymore, especially with the amount of success we’ve had as a team in Detroit, and not going into the ballpark with the same group of guys and the same faces I’ve seen for the last seven years, obviously that’s the tough part about the game. The relationships you form some times, you are not able to continue those.“It was a little tough for me because a lot went into the last seven years. You put a lot of time and effort into it. But at the same time, I’m extremely excited about something new that is going to be coming into my life. A new place, new teammates, new opportunity. And that’s to me, it’s motivation factor and really I can’t wait. It’s November 30 but I can’t wait for Spring Training.”On his father being the current Tigers GM and former assistant GM while he was in Detroit:“It never got awkward as far as the baseball side of it. The tough part probably for him and myself over the years was that sometimes, especially last year when we were playing so poorly, the stress of the job for both of us, there were a lot of things we couldn’t talk about because we never crossed that line. We were very professional about what each of our jobs was and is. We never came anywhere near crossing that line and it becoming something like that. I’m sure if you talk to people that know us well and people that covered us, they’d say the same thing. “As far as our relationship, it never got awkward. It was actually a blessing. He got to see me play every single day in the big leagues. What dad wouldn’t want to do that and have that with his son. It was actually a great thing, the fact we got to spend seven years with each other, going after the same goal and trying to win the World Series. For that, I am extremely lucky and I wish we could have gone longer, but the decision of not going back to Detroit and them not pursuing me had nothing to do with our relationship as a father and son. We handled it like we handled it every single year. It’s about the team. It’s a business decision, and it has no effect on our relationship. It’s just the way the game works and the way the business works.”