Alex Avila, Tigers in unique spot amid trade rumors

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Alex Avila's defense has not been an issue; it's his hitting that has declined since 2011.

It's a delicate issue, to be sure, these national reports that the Tigers are, at least, listening to trade offers for catcher Alex Avila.

It's delicate, of course, because Avila's dad, Al Sr., is the team's assistant general manager and certainly is in on any such discussions.

That said, Alex Avila isn't concerning himself with the buzz.

"The only thing I can control," Avila told The Detroit News on Thursday afternoon, "is getting prepared for next season."

Avila is eager for the 2015 season for a couple reasons, the first being his health. He suffered at least three concussions during the 2014 season, including one in the final game of the year, Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles.

After a bevy of tests that stretched more than a week into the offseason, doctors cleared Avila to start working out at home in Florida and getting ready for the season.

And it's a big season for Avila, who will be a free agent next offseason. He must improve his offense, and cut down on his strikeouts, to land a big payday. His defense remains spectacular, which makes any Tigers trade talk involving Avila a bit curious, unless they're looking at signing a free agent (Russell Martin?) to take his spot. The in-house replacements are James McCann and Bryan Holaday, two right-handed hitters with limited major-league experience.

The thought all along was Avila would start in 2015, and McCann would be his backup, giving Detroit the optimal platoon -- McCann, who torched left-handed pitching in the minor leagues, playing against the southpaws, and Avila continuing to get the bulk of starts against right-handers.

Avila, 27, was the starting catcher in the All-Star Game in 2011, and multiple times has been a Gold Glove finalist (though he hasn't won yet). He's among the best game-callers and pitch-framers in all of baseball, and his arm is very much elite.

It's the offense that's declined with his health. Each of the last two years he finished with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs, barely half what he did in 2011. In 2014, he batted .218 with 151 strikeouts in 124 games, but he did have a respectable on-base percentage of .327, and remains among the team's most clutch hitters.

Teams reportedly interested in him include the Red Sox and Braves, each of whom is searching for a left-handed bat. The Tigers, too, hold lefty bats in high regard, so they certainly wouldn't be willing to give him away for pennies on the dollar.

The Tigers hold a $5.4-million option on Avila, one that oddly hasn't been picked up yet. After all, even if they decline and exchange arbitration numbers, the team won't save much money. The Tigers have until Nov. 20 to make up their mind on that.

In the meantime, Avila is enjoying some downtown with the family, which included a just-completed vacation to Disney World.

"It was a lot of fun," Avila said. "My daughter is all about Mickey and Minnie."