Detroit — Six years after he first made it to Comerica Park, Alex Avila and the Tigers are preparing for his departure.
Nothing is official. But few expect a man days from free agency to be wearing a Detroit uniform in 2016. It’s why Tigers manager Brad Ausmus made a point Sunday to have Avila in the starting lineup for a 1:08 p.m. game between the Tigers and Twins in the last home tussle of the season at Comerica Park.
“One last home game here, which will be nice,” said Avila, who was scheduled to catch for Tigers starter Randy Wolf as the Tigers prepared to close out the Comerica half of their schedule ahead of a final road trip to Texas and Chicago.
“We’ve had a lot of success here. There have been a lot of great memories. It’s been a great relationship.”
And yet it has been a difficult partnership.
There have been too many injuries, beginning with a series of concussions that appeared, at one point in 2014, as if they could be career-threatening. There has also been a steady tumble in Avila’s batting numbers since 2011 when he was the American League All-Star starter and looked as if he might become a franchise catcher.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if the head injuries had something to do with it,” Ausmus said Sunday, analyzing how a left-handed hitter who batted .295 in 2011, with an .895 OPS, could Sunday have been sitting at .190 and .626.
But never has there been an issue with Avila’s defense. Or with his arm. Or with his pitch-calling prowess. Or with his professional or personal integrity.
It is why Ausmus was sure Sunday to mention his own experience, having worked as a catcher during two separate stints with the Tigers. And why a return trip for Avila might also be in the cards.
But implicit in all parties’ words has been the sense there will be no renewal ahead of 2016. The Tigers aren’t sure about a back-up catcher for new starter James McCann, but Bryan Holaday is a natural, affordable choice to be McCann’s fill-in when the team convenes in five months for spring camp.
The fact his father, Al, is the team’s new general manager changes nothing about a son’s prospects for remaining in Detroit.
In fact, the relationship has been a constant source of discomfort – and of happiness – since the day Tigers assistant GM David Chadd snagged Avila in the 2008 draft’s fifth round.
Father and son have handled a delicate circumstance nobly. During Dave Dombrowski’s reign as GM, Al resolutely excused himself from any front-office discussions about his son.
Alex dealt with the simple fact he worked primarily for Dombrowski and on a daily base for the Tigers manager. In their respective jobs, father and son had little overlap.
But that has changed. And for reasons of economics, primarily, it is anticipated Alex will be offered a better deal, and perhaps enjoy a more relaxed environment, signing with another team.
Until then, he’ll have one more day as a starter in Detroit. In the only big-league uniform he ever has known.