Alex Avila 'excited' about reunion with Tigers

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Alex Avila kept his home in Metro Detroit. Ian Kinsler rented it out in 2016.

So, is there an eviction notice coming?

"At the end of the season, he ended up moving out anyway," Avila said, with a laugh, during a phone call with The News on Friday night. "It's worked out."

Avila and the Tigers agreed on a reunion, finalizing a one-year, $2-million deal for him to return to the Tigers as the backup catcher to James McCann.

Avila spent one season away from the Detroit organization that is run by his father, general manager Al Avila, with the Chicago White Sox last season.

He replaces free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who batted .171/.284/.346 in 2016, but had 12 homers, many of them clutch, with 38 RBIs.

With the White Sox, for whom he played on a one-year, $2.5-million deal, Avila batted .213, but his on-base percentage remained healthy, at .359. Drawing walks always has been a strength for the left-handed hitter. Avila also had seven homers in 57 games, two coming against the Tigers — both against Justin Verlander.

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"Now that I'm back," said Avila, "he doesn't have to worry about me hitting any more home runs off him."

The signing isn't a major one, but it's significant in that it fills a void, and it's also the first signing of a player to a major league contract this offseason for the Tigers, who are trying to get their $200 million payroll in order to avoid paying future luxury taxes.

Avila, 29, was a fifth-round pick by the Tigers in 2008, out of Alabama. He debuted in 2009 and was the starting catcher for the American League All-Star team in 2011, his best year, when he batted .295/.389/.506 with 19 homers and 82 RBIs. But he played a whopping 141 games in 2011, including a bunch down the stretch, even though the Tigers ran away with the AL Central.

Then-manager Jim Leyland later admitted that might've been too much. Avila's production declined steadily over the next four years, as a variety of injuries mounted.

He missed a bunch of time in 2016 with a hamstring injury.

"For me, it was a bit of a mixed bag," Avila said of his one year with the White Sox. "The hamstring injury kind of lingered. The times I was on the field, I had a few stretches where I was really productive and able to get on base and play some good baseball.

"I had a great time in Chicago. It's a great organization, good people over there. I wish it would've turned out a little bit differently."

The White Sox started strong, with a 17-8 first month, but quickly fizzled and finished in fourth place in the division.

The Tigers finished runner-up in the AL Central, to the AL-champion Cleveland Indians — who, on Thursday, signed free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion.

The Tigers still have a strong core in place, led by a young but talented pitching rotation, assuming none of the big names that have made the trade-rumor circuit actually get dealt.

Avila began the offseason thinking the Tigers wouldn't be an option, but as things developed, that changed. And the last week, talks picked up so much, "I couldn't sleep because I was so excited," he said.

Prior to the week, Avila said he never spent much time worrying about his future, knowing there's always a market for catching. He's spent most of the offseason working out and hanging with his family; his children are 3 and 1, soon to be 4 and 2.

He's also had some time to follow his passion, Alabama football, the top-ranked team in the nation and a favorite to win another national championship.

The title game, by the way, is Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla. It just so happens Avila's good friend is getting married Jan. 7 in Tampa.

"I've already told my wife," said Avila, "we might have to stay an extra day."

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Tigers DFA'd right-hander Angel Nesbitt.