Five days after he signed, Alex Avila finally talked to the White Sox media. This feels like using the same coffee filter over a long weekend, not that the holiday is his fault. Unless it is.
Fortunately, his media conference -- specifically, the way he phrased a couple things during said media conference -- allowed me to extract just a little more post juice from a bench signing.
"It will be interesting, for sure, facing the Tigers again and going to Detroit and stuff like that -- with all the personal relationships," he said. "It will be a lot of fun. Obviously, seven years is a long time to be with a team, and there’s a lot of relationships there, so it will actually be nice to be able to see everybody off the field. But at the same time, I can’t wait to kick their ass."
It's hard to think of many players who jumped from an AL Central rival to the White Sox, or vice versa, while both teams had designs on contending. The White Sox acquired a bunch of bad Royals and a half-season of Francisco Liriano, but the last one poached by the Sox to arm themselves for war was Jesse Crain, who worked out pretty well.
That said, I don't think it was enough to offset the damage from the year before, when the Twins picked up Jim Thome before dawn after the White Sox decided to leave him at the curb. That's the most recent notable movement in the other direction. I chose "movement" on purpose.
"Once I kind of looked at all the teams out there that probably would be looking for a catcher, I thought Chicago might be a good fit," Avila, a 2011 All-Star, said. "And one of the things that was important to me was obviously an opportunity to play as opposed to being a straight backup catcher.
"I had talked to [general manager] Rick [Hahn] and when we were going through the whole process, to me it seemed like that opportunity was going to be there with me and Tyler [Flowers] splitting time and letting [manager] Robin [Ventura] kind of use both of our strengths in order to be as productive as possible."
Initial plans can be deceiving. After all, the White Sox signed Adam LaRoche with the intent of playing him at first base twice a week, but Jose Abreu's defense had some development left in it, so that earned the priority.
This musical-backstops situation seems like it should have a better shot at sticking. Catchers need more days off, of course, and it'd really be beneficial to see how Flowers can perform when he's not pressed into disadvantageous situations by default. Based on the 2015 numbers, though, the Sox may hesitate leaning on Avila for a situation approaching a 50-50 split if Avila's post-injury problems roll into the new year. They seemed hesitant to give Geovany Soto the keys during his surges, and he didn't have anywhere near the difficulties Avila encountered:
In Avila's favor, besides posting positive framing numbers up until 2014, he had been one of the best game-callers in baseball over the same time period, helping Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer toward Cy Young awards. The Sox have seen it from their dugout over the years, and Avila said during the media conference that he's happy to put his AL Central knowledge to use.
Hopefully this kind of outside familiarity will make it easier for this tandem to execute the rarest of sightings: a successful White Sox platoon. Assuming Avila gets out of spring training intact, Ventura should have ample reason to push Avila in the early going. And since receiving stats stabilize more quickly than most, it may only take a month for the Sox to get a handle on how much Avila is helping or hurting his pitchers.