In need of a backup catcher, with the Nationals expecting Yan Gomes to make 100-110 starts as a No. 1-type receiver in the upcoming 2021 season, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo signed veteran catcher Alex Avila to what is reportedly a 1-year/$1.5M free agent deal that was officially announced by Washington on Wednesday morning.
Avila, 34, put up a .184/.355/.286 line, two doubles, and a home run in 23 games and 62 plate appearances in 2020’s 60-game campaign, over which he was worth 0.2 fWAR for Minnesota’s Twins.
The 12-year veteran is coming off a 1-year/$4.25M deal with the Twins that he signed in December of 2019, after a .207/.353/.421, eight double, nine home run, 1.3 fWAR run in Arizona in his second season with the D-Backs.
“Since the start of the 2019 season,” the Nationals noted in a press release on their latest roster addition, “Avila ranks fourth among Major League catchers in on-base percentage (.354).”:
“Behind the plate, he ranks second among Major League catchers (min. 75 G) in caught stealing percentage (43.8%) since 2019.
“He’s thrown out 14 of the 32 runners attempting to steal off of him over this span.”
With Avila, the Nationals added a strong defensive catcher, with a high on-base percentage, who, more importantly, has some history with a number of the starters in the Nats’ rotation, which should, in theory, help him get up to speed quickly on the arms he’ll be working with in D.C.
Notable about Alex Avila, who turns 34 tomorrow: He caught Max Scherzer extensively in Detroit (107 times) and briefly caught Jon Lester in Chicago (twice) and Patrick Corbin in Arizona (14 times).— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) January 28, 2021
Avila was behind the plate for 107 games with Max Scherzer on the mound while both were in Detroit, guiding the three-time Cy Young winner to 3.27 ERA in 661 IP, and he helped the starter earn his first Cy Young in 2013, when the righty had a 2.49 ERA and a .173/.230/.282 line against in 18 starts and 119 1⁄3 IP working with Avila.
“It will be a lot of fun catching Max again, he was always one of my favorite guys to catch,” Avila said in a Zoom call with reporters in the nation’s capital on Wednesday night.
“[Scherzer] was always so well-prepared going into games, and I got to watch him develop really into what he is now, and so it will be a thrill for me to be able to catch him again.
“I’m excited to be able to work with him again. He was the first guy that actually texted me once the news broke a few days ago, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
It’s been a while since they last worked together back in 2014, but the catcher said he was excited to see what the Nationals’ ace has learned and how he’s developed since he left to sign a 7-year/$210M free agent deal in D.C. the following winter.
“That’s part of the excitement for me, is seeing where he’s gotten better at and what he’s learned in the years that we haven’t played together,” Avila explained.
“It was a different stage of his career. He was still figuring himself out. I got to see that over the course of five years or so we were teammates and it kind of culminated in a really good year for him in 2013, but then he’s taken it to a whole nother level, obviously, after signing with the Nationals. So it will be interesting and part of the excitement for me to see what he’s learned over the last few years and what he’s been able to do, and to be honest with you I’m just going to try to help continue that for him.”
As MASN’s Mark Zuckerman noted in the tweet above, it’s not just Scherzer that Avila has history with, though he doesn’t have nearly as much time behind the plate with left-hand starters Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester, who signed on in D.C this winter as well.
The fact that he does have some experience with three of the five projected starters did, however, factor into his decision when he was looking for a new home this winter.
“From early in the offseason I thought that might be a really good fit as long as the Nationals had the same type of interest. Not just with being familiar with some of the guys on the staff, but also the fact that they are a team built to win now and their goal is to win a World Series, and I had a great conversation with [GM] Mike Rizzo about it yesterday, so that was just kind of at the forefront of my mind going into it and I was very happy that Washington had the same type of interest.”
When they all get to West Palm Beach, FL, and the Nationals’ Spring Training facility, the real work of getting to know his staff will start for Avila.
“That will be part of the challenge going into Spring Training. I only know three of the guys on the staff, as far as Lester, Pat, and Max, so everyone will be a learning experience for me and that starts with video, that starts with conversations with them, conversations with Jim [Hickey] and Davey [Martinez] and Yan [Gomes].
“Yan, I’ll probably rely on the most as far as trying to figure out what makes these pitchers tick, and I think me and him are going to have a really great working relationship.”