The Twins have crossed one item off their shopping list before the winter meetings in San Diego.
They have a backup catcher.
Former All-Star Alex Avila has agreed to a one-year, $4.25 million deal to join the Twins and back up emerging starter Mitch Garver. The deal will be official once a physical exam is completed.
Avila will give the Twins a capable catcher off the bench who has some power, strikes out a lot — but who doesn’t in today’s game? — and can control the running game. Avila, 32 and son of Detroit Tigers General Manager Al Avila, is very familiar with how business is done in the American League Central, having spent seven-plus seasons with the Tigers and two with the White Sox. He spent the past two seasons with Arizona.
He will assume a backup role as Garver handles the majority of catching duties. Garver belted 31 homers and drove in 67 runs in 93 games last season while batting .273 with a .995 on base-plus-slugging percentage. Garver started the season in a platoon arrangement with lefthanded hitting Jason Castro, who played in 79 games, but Garver hit 19 of his home runs off righthanded pitchers and emerged as an everyday option.
Castro who is a good defensive catcher, is expected to land a starting job elsewhere. Willians Astudillo also can catch but, if he makes the team, would likely be in a jack of all trades role. Major leagues teams can carry 26 players in 2020.
Avila struck out 33.8 percent of the last season and 29.1 percent for his career, which is a lot. He will give the Twins a strong presence behind the plate when it comes to handling the running game. He’s throwing out 30 percent of baserunners attempting to steal in his career, and nabbed 11 of 21 base stealers last season.
Avila, who will be 33 in January, had 16 home runs and hit .184 in 143 games for the Diamondbacks over the past two seasons. He signed with Detroit after they drafted him in the fifth round in 2008 out of the University of Alabama when his father was an assistant GM for Detroit.
He started behind the plate for four American League Central Division championship teams in Detroit (2011-14). He was an All-Star as a 24-year-old in 2011 when he played in 141 games, hit 19 home runs, drove in 82 runs, hit .295 and won a Silver Slugger at catcher.
Some injury-plagued seasons followed, although he was a finalist for the Golden Glove Award at catcher in 2014. After he lost his starting job in 2015, he became a free agent and signed with the White Sox, but played in only 56 games in 2016. He re-signed with Detroit for 2017, but was traded to the Cubs but made only one plate appearance in the postseason as Chicago was ousted in the National League Division Series by the Dodgers.
The past two seasons he’s been part of a rotation in Arizona after signing a two-year, $8.25 million deal. In 201 plate appearances last season, he struck out 68 times, hitting .207 with nine home runs.
The Twins continue to search for starting pitching help and also have a corner infield spot unfilled heading into the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in San Diego.