The potential for playing time with the White Sox is more important to Alex Avila than the possibility of an awkward moment he might face against his old team.
The veteran catcher said Monday the chance to be more than a backup catcher with the White Sox was the impetus for signing a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.
Last week, general manager Rick Hahn suggested Avila — who previously played for the Detroit Tigers — could split time with Tyler Flowers as the White Sox attempt to improve an offense that finished 14th among 15 American League teams in runs scored.
Though his new home means he’ll have to face Detroit 19 times next season, Avila is excited about the opportunity. He also seems pretty fired up to face the Tigers and letting them know he’s not done.
“It will be interesting for sure facing the Tigers,” Avila said. “Obviously with all the friends and relationships I have there, it will be interesting. It will be a lot of fun. Obviously, seven years is a long time in this game to be in this place. So there’s a lot of relationships I have there.
“It will actually be nice to be able to see everybody off the field. At the same time, I can’t wait to kick their ass.”
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The White Sox would love nothing more than for Avila to take a few names. His productivity has steadily declined as health problems have limited him to 191 games the past two seasons, including only 67 contests in 2015. A year after he might have suffered up to three concussions, the left-handed hitting backstop missed nearly two months with a bone bruise in his left knee last season and saw his OPS slip to a career-low .626.
But the White Sox are starved for good at-bats, and Avila still has provided them. Despite seeing his average slip to .191 last season, Avila finished with a .339 on-base percentage. In discussions about his role, Avila got the sense from Hahn he could see a significant amount of time playing alongside Flowers.
“One of the things that was important to me was obviously an opportunity to play as opposed to being a straight backup catcher,” Avila said. “When we were going through the whole process, to me it seemed like that opportunity was going to be there with me and Tyler splitting time and letting Robin (Ventura) kind of use both of our strengths in order to be as productive as possible.”
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Not only is the playing time potentially there, so too is the familiarity. Avila said he likes that he won’t have to learn an entirely new cadre of hitters by staying in the American League, and he’s even more in tune with AL Central players.
Though Detroit’s decision to let him depart via free agency didn’t seem to surprise Avila, it doesn’t mean moving on is easy. Avila joined the Tigers in August 2009 and was an integral part of the club’s four straight AL Central championships.
But Avila, who turns 29 in January, equally looks forward to joining the White Sox.
“Some mixed emotions,” Avila said. “I wouldn’t say sad but just when you come to the realization that obviously something you’ve known for a long time is not going to be the case anymore, especially with the amount of success we’ve had as a team in Detroit, and not going into the ballpark with the same group of guys and the same faces I’ve seen for the last seven years, obviously that’s the tough part about the game. The relationships you form, sometimes you are not able to continue those.
“It was a little tough for me because a lot went into the last seven years. You put a lot of time and effort into it. But at the same time, I’m extremely excited about something new that is going to be coming into my life. A new place, new teammates, new opportunity.”