Avila is Young but what was Gerald Laird’s Excuse?

Originally published in The Tigers Den Blog | 10 November 2010

Alex_Avila

This offseason I’ll be evaluating each position for the Tigers, from Catcher to Closer and every player in between. It’s called There’s Always Next Year, because, well, there always is. We start by dissecting the catching core, Alex Avila and Gerald Laird, and we end by looking at how they can improve for 2011.

Well, for starters, we won’t be interested in an improved Gerald Laird, because he won’t be suiting up for the Tigers in 2011. In fact, I’m not completely convinced he won’t be donning the uniform of a coca cola vendor next year. For all his “defensive prowess”, the fact that he hit .207 in 299 at-bats (most of them April-July) is simply disgusting and if he signs anywhere it will be barely a back-up role. Detroit kept him a year too long anyway, and furthermore, after Alex Avila arrived in September of 2009, he should have been relegated to back-up duties to start the season.

Avila, was a surprise, sure. And Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski wanted to give it a little time, but sheesh, Laird didn’t get his 10th hit until May 10th. And Avila showed them that he could hold his own defensively, as he threw out 32% of potential base stealers.The reason the Tigers played Laird was for his defense? Well, he threw out 34%, that’s only a handful more than the rookie did.

Bottom line, Laird had a WAR of -0.1 last year and Avila had a 0.5. Sure, neither of them were great, but you can’t pay a guy $4m a year when someone like Max St. Pierre can produce just as much. Thankfully, in 2011, the Tigers are not going to have to do that. Hopefully, they won’t be playing St. Pierre either (no disrespect to him, either).

But all of that was last year and now Avila has another year under his belt and should be given a real shot at catching full-time next year. I like Avila, I really do. I don’t care that his father is the assistant General Manager, and that the reason he was brought up in September of 2009 had a lot to do with that (depending on who you talk to). I don’t care that he doesn’t have too much patience at the plate (.316 on base percentage last year), I like the fact that he’s going to be only 24 years old (childlike for a catcher in this league), I like his swing, I like his pop, and most of all, I like his beard.

Victor_Martinez_2Honestly, having heard that the Tigers are interested in Victor Martinez makes me breathe a little easier. He’s a big name and a big bat, and he’ll be a great clubhouse guy who has a desire to win. But, I’m going to take a look at this from another point. This side wonders if Martinez is the right player for Detroit. If you are a team that feels you have a good young catcher (which I think the Tigers do) and a staple at first (which I know the Tigers do), what are you doing signing a catcher/first baseman to a long contract (four or five years) for a premium price ($10-$13 million)?

I know that I talked about Martinez being a good thing for the Tigers in my free agent post, and he is, (remember this is the other side of signing Martinez) but if the Tigers and Dombrowski are serious about contending next year (which they are) then they need to go after a combination of Adam Dunn, Jayson Werth, and Carl Crawford before they sign Martinez, who should be signed as a consolation to the player they missed.

If they are serious about Avila as a legitimate starter, any catcher they sign should be someone like John Buck or Miguel Olivo, if for nothing but a fresh face as Avila’s backup who can provide some worthwhile power.

If not, well, Martinez would certainly provide some much needed offense.

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