The Diamondbacks and catcher Alex Avila “appear” to have mutual interest in working out a new contract, Zach Buchanan of The Athletic reports within an excellently laid out look at the team’s upcoming 40-man roster decisions and Rule 5 protection candidates (subscription required). The veteran catcher is slated to become a free agent this winter.
Avila, 33 in January, has spent the past two seasons in Arizona after signing a two-year, $8.25MM deal in the 2017-18 offseason. He’s been surpassed on the depth chart by standout young catcher Carson Kelly, but Avila’s patient eye and left-handed bat would make him a reasonable complement and veteran mentor to the up-and-coming 25-year-old.
Avila’s first season with the D-backs was a disaster, as he posted a miserable .165/.299/.304 batting line with an eye-popping 38.5 percent strikeout rate in 234 plate appearances. However, while he still posted an ugly batting average in 2019, he put the ball in play more often, drew more walks and showed more power. The resulting .207/.353/.421 slash (in 204 plate appearances) was one of the game’s more unusual lines but came out to roughly league-average overall output, per both OPS+ (100) and wRC+ (97).
Among the 360 players with at least 200 plate appearances in 2019, Avila’s gaudy 17.9 percent walk rate ranked third, trailing only Mike Trout and Brandon Nimmo. Strikeouts were still an issue, as Avila’s 33.4 percent rate was the 12th-highest in that same subset of hitters. Lack of balls in play notwithstanding, it seems that his power, on-base skills and defensive abilities are traits the Arizona front office hopes to retain. Avila has posted average or better framing marks in both seasons with the D-backs, and after throwing out a solid 30 percent of would-be base thieves in 2018, he nabbed 11 of the 21 men who tried to steal against him in 2019 (52 percent). Baseball Prospectus also rates his ability to block pitches quite favorably.
The Diamondbacks do have Caleb Joseph currently on the 40-man roster as a potential backup to Kelly, should a new deal with Avila ultimately fail to reach fruition for one reason or another. With a projected arbitration salary of $1.2MM (per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz), though, Joseph isn’t certain to be tendered a contract. Cutting ties with Joseph would only further create a need to bring in a veteran backstop — be it Avila or someone else — but Joseph batted just .211/.250/.263 in 41 plate appearances with the Snakes while batting .265/.324/.481 with Triple-A Reno. It’s also possible that the D-backs try to keep all three players, as Arizona has frequently carried three catchers under GM Mike Hazen. The addition of a 26th Major League roster spot for all 30 MLB teams next winter will only make it easier to do so, should the Diamondbacks wish to continue with that approach.