Alex Avila doesn’t think this is a cute story. This is the family business, handed down from his grandfather, Ralph, a Los Angeles Dodgers executive who had enormous influence on baseball in Latin America, to his dad, Al, the Detroit Tigers general manager who just traded him to the Cubs.
But Avila is also the experienced catcher and steadying clubhouse influence the Cubs wanted to add before the July 31 trade deadline, too professional to not go along with the father-son questions.
“My name’s been out there for a while,” Avila said Tuesday at Wrigley Field. “But we had talked about it over the course of the last month-and-a-half – that if that was the direction he was going to decide to go in – I would be a player that teams would be looking at. That’s understandable.
“We have a great relationship. But when it comes to doing our jobs, we both have to do our jobs. There was nothing more to it than that. I know a lot of people like to crack jokes.”
Like Cubs president Theo Epstein, who filled the two biggest holes in his roster late Sunday night by getting Avila and lefty reliever/possible 2018 closer Justin Wilson in a package deal with the Tigers.
“Every trade is a trade for someone’s son,” Epstein said. “We were joking around that we should ask Al about the players we were getting back: ‘Tell me about their upbringing. How were they raised? Any annoying dads in the picture?’”
Al had been Detroit’s assistant general manager in 2008 when the Tigers drafted his son in the fifth round out of the University of Alabama. Avila made his major-league debut in 2009 and became a building-block player for teams that won four consecutive division titles between 2011 and 2014.
A franchise reckoning came in the middle of the 2015 season, when Tigers owner Mike Ilitch fired Dave Dombrowski and promoted Al to the top spot in baseball operations. Al let his son walk as a free agent that offseason. After a turbulent year with the White Sox, Avila returned to Detroit on a one-year, $2 million contract that he will finish out with the defending World Series champs.
“Obviously, it’s a unique situation,” Avila said. “I really don’t know when it’s happened before. But I’m glad it has happened, because we got to spend a lot of time together.
“He got to watch me play a lot of Major League Baseball games over the last eight, nine years. It’s been amazing. We’ve had something that a lot of people don’t get to experience very often.”
Ilitch – a competitive owner who supported big-market payrolls and desperately tried to win a World Series – died in February. The Tigers are in a difficult, uncertain spot with franchise icons like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera and saddled with long-term contracts for Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann.
But Avila’s mom, Yamile, has a more pressing issue.
“She’s probably more upset by the fact that she’s not going to see her grandchildren as much,” Avila said. “But my family understands. We’re a baseball family, been in it forever.
“When you grow up in this industry, you understand what it takes in order to succeed, and the sacrifices you have to make as a family. It’s nothing new to us.”