Editor’s note: Ashley MacLennan is a writer and editor for Bless You Boys, SB Nation’s Detroit Tigers blog. She also happens to be a Cubs fan, which made the trade of Alex Avila to the Cubs a lot easier to stomach. She does, however, miss writing about him regularly, and as such will now be doing a regular update on his achievements.
Alas, Cubs fans, the 2017 season has come to an end, and with it the hopes of a repeat performance at the World Series. The Cubs fought valiantly, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t enough to defeat the juggernaut that is the ‘17 Los Angeles Dodgers. So, with the season concluded, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 could look like.
As of right now, the starting catcher position for the Cubs is locked down, with the 25-year-old Willson Contreras returning, and inexpensive as he’s not yet arbitration-eligible. Willson posted a .276/.356/.499 line for the season, with a solid 21 home runs to his credit, plus two more in the postseason. He had 3.9 bWAR this year, impressive for any catcher. He could lock down this position for several years.
But they’ll need someone to back him up, and they just so happen to have a quality backup catcher on their bench already.
Alex Avila was brought over as part of the Justin Wilson trade at the end of July, and was an appealing bonus to the trade because of the .274/.394/.475 line he had in Detroit, where his performance was so strong he all but elbowed catcher James McCann into a secondary role, often batting second in the Tigers’ lineup.
His numbers with the Cubs weren’t as strong, with only .239/.369/.380, but he led the team in walk percentage, and in his only appearance this postseason, collected a hit (the first postseason hit on a Warstic bat, in case you were interested). And, every Cubs fan will always remember this walkoff single last August 20 against the Blue Jays:
Alex Avila with a walk off base hit! The Cubs score 3 runs in the 10th inning to win the game. What a game! pic.twitter.com/8qYm9vDrvh— Cubs Live (@Cubs_Live) August 20, 2017
In order to assess his value, it’s important to take into account his season with Detroit as well as the Cubs, only because he appeared so much more with the Tigers, where he had 2.0 bWAR, which was his highest since 2014. Avila is in the middle of a resurgence, having improved his bat skills, something I investigated for Bless You Boys, and he managed to stay injury free.
The Cubs need a quality veteran on their bench, both to give Contreras room to breathe, to add a lefty to the batting lineup, and to offer the kind of experience and guidance a young team so badly needs going forward. Avila would likely be willing to sign for a single year, and wouldn’t cost the team an arm and a leg. Given his quality in the 2017 season he would likely fetch between $2-$4 million for a single year, something that wouldn’t upset the boat too much, especially given the bargain they’re getting with Contreras.
The other thing to make Avila appealing as an offseason signing target is his trade value. As the Tigers proved, there’s always a market for a hot bat who can pivot between catcher and backing up Anthony Rizzo at first base. Should Avila show the same level of quality in 2018, the Cubs could potentially use him as a trade bartering chip later in the season if they need to add to their bench.
Signing Alex Avila would just be smart for the Cubs. He’s a relative bargain as catchers go, and his plate discipline is second to none.