Wednesday's MLB: Nationals add backup catcher Alex Avila on 1-year, $1.5M deal

Jimmy Golen
Associated Press

Alex Avila finalized a $1.5 million, one-year contract Wednesday with the Washington Nationals, who are expected to use him as the primary backup to starting catcher Yan Gomes.

Avila, who turned 34 last week, was a free agent after playing in 2020 for the Minnesota Twins, batting .184 in 49 at-bats during the coronavirus-shortened season.

While he hasn’t had any detailed discussions about his role with manager Dave Martinez or GM Mike Rizzo, Avila said: “Whenever Davey needs me in the lineup, I’ll be ready to go.”

Alex Avila (16) of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on July 26, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

He has played 12 years in the majors for five clubs and has a .235 career batting average with a .348 on-base percentage, 104 homers and 388 RBIs.

“I don’t think I’m going to be hitting fourth for this team,” joked Avila, who has thrown out 14 of 32 runners trying to steal over the past two seasons.

He has caught current Nationals starters Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester in previous stops. Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, was the first new-slash-old teammate to text Avila after he agreed to go to Washington.

Avila said Scherzer wrote: “You get on, I’ll drive you in.”

“It’ll be a lot of fun catching Max again,” Avila said. “He was always one of my favorite guys to catch.”

His father, Al, is general manager of the Detroit Tigers, and the younger Avila said he entertained the thought of returning to that team.

“One day that will happen,” Alex Avila said.

His addition was the latest in a flurry of moves by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo after the team tied for last place in the NL East.

Washington has brought in lefty starter Lester, lefty reliever Brad Hand, first baseman Josh Bell and left fielder Kyle Schwarber, and re-signed first baseman Ryan Zimmerman after he sat out 2020.

Red Sox add Richards

After spending the first decade of his career on the West Coast, Garrett Richards was eager to give Boston a try.

“Being in this division, you have to make sure your game is at a high level,” he told said  after finalizing a one-year deal that guarantees $10 million. “Plus, I thought it would be a good chance to see the other side of the country.”

Richards went 47-41 with a 3.62 ERA in 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres. The right-hander had Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2018 and came back for just three games at the end of the ’19 season, then went 2-2 with a 4.03 ERA during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

The one thing he would do differently, he said, would be to have the elbow surgery in 2016 “and be done with it.”

“I’ve had a few rough years, some unfortunate injuries here and there,” he said. “Over the years I’ve been banged up a little bit. But every time you get banged up. I think you learn something about yourself.”

Richards, 32, agreed to terms on Jan. 23, pending a physical. He gets an $8.5 million salary this year, and the deal includes a $10 million option for 2022 with a $1.5 million buyout. The 2022 price could escalate depending on 2021 performance. 

Boston opened a spot from him on the 40-man roster by designating right-hander Joel Payamps for assignment.

Richards said when considering offers he was intrigued not just by playing in the AL East and on the East Coast but also by the Red Sox organization. First baseman Mitch Moreland, a teammate from the Padres at the end of last season, “had nothing but great things to say about the Red Sox.”

Payamps, 26, had a 3.86 ERA while making four appearances for the Diamondbacks over the past two seasons. He had been claimed on waivers this offseason.

Cruz re-ups with Twins

The Minnesota Twins are bringing back designated hitter Nelson Cruz on a one-year, $13 million contract, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.

The agreement was confirmed to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal was pending completion of a physical exam.

Cruz turned 40 last season and batted .303 with 16 home runs, 33 RBIs and a .992 OPS in 53 games during the pandemic-shortened schedule.

He has led the team in homers in each of his two years with the Twins while ranking second and fourth, respectively, in the AL in OPS. The six-time All-Star won Silver Slugger awards in 2019 and 2020, when the Twins won the AL Central both seasons.

Just as valuable to the club has been Cruz’s leadership, with his laid-back demeanor and hard-working attitude and an ability to mentor players like first baseman Miguel Sanó, a fellow native of the Dominican Republic. Cruz played through a ruptured tendon in his wrist in 2019. He won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award in 2020 on a vote by his major league peers, earning respect around the game for his efforts to donate a fire engine and an ambulance and help build a police station in his hometown of Las Matas De Santa Cruz.

No player in the major leagues has more home runs over the last seven seasons than Cruz (260), who also has the third-most RBIs (663) during that span, according to Sportradar data.

Soria, D-Backs agree to deal

The Arizona Diamondbacks have agreed to terms on a one-year, $3.5 million with former Tigers relief pitcher Joakim Soria, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.

The agreement was confirmed by AP on the condition of anonymity because the deal is pending the completion of a successful physical exam. Soria can earn $500,000 in performance incentives.

The two-time All-Star will be pitching for his eighth MLB team. The 36-year-old right-hander spent the past two years with Oakland and finished with a 2.82 ERA in 22 appearances during the abbreviated 2020 season.

Around the horn

The Baltimore Orioles have agreed to sign veteran right-hander Félix Hernández to a minor league contract. Hernández, 34, won an AL Cy Young Award, two ERA titles and made six All-Star teams over 15 seasons with Seattle before becoming a free agent last offseason.

... Catcher Josh Phegley is retiring from baseball after eight major league seasons, a week shy of his 33rd birthday.

... Relief pitcher Bryan Shaw, 33, signed a minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians with an invite to the big league camp during spring training.