January 31st, 2014

Tigers avoid arbitration with Avila

The Tigers have avoided arbitration hearings for another year, reaching a deal with Alex Avila on a one-year, $4.35 million contract that includes a club option for 2015.

The deal finishes the Tigers’ arbitration dealings just before hearings were scheduled to begin for players next week. Avila and the Tigers exchanged salary figures two weeks ago after struggling to reach an agreement. Avila expressed confidence a week ago that the two sides would reach an agreement before hearings would be scheduled next week. It took some creative contract work, but they finished it up late Friday.

Avila will make a base salary of $4.15 million this season. If he makes the All-Star team, wins a Silver Slugger Award (he did both in 2011) or finishes in the top 15 in MVP balloting, his $5.4 million option for 2015 will automatically vest. If not, the Tigers will decide whether to pick up the option or buy it out for $200,000 (hence the $4.35 million guaranteed). A buyout would leave Avila eligible for arbitration one more time before becoming a free agent after the 2015 season.

The deal also reportedly includes escalators that would bump up the salary on Avila’s option if he has a high number of plate appearances.

Avila made $2.95 million in 2013. He filed for a $5.3 million salary two weeks ago, with the Tigers countering with a $3.75 million offer. The new deal put the base salary closer to the team offer, but offers the enticement of the second year. If Avila is an All-Star and a Silver Slugger winner in 2014, a $5.4 million salary should be a decent deal.

Avila batted a career-low .227 last year with 11 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .693 OPS. Within those numbers, however, were two distinctly different half-seasons. His .177 average before the All-Star break was the lowest among AL players with at least 200 plate appearances. His .303 batting average after the break was the 16th highest, and his .876 OPS ranked just outside the AL’s top 10, despite missing time in August with a concussion.

Though Avila’s father is Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila, the family and the Tigers have maintained a stance that the elder Avila would not be involved in contract situations involving his son. Team legal counsel John Westhoff handles negotiations with input from team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski.

“A lot of work went into it,” said Jim Murray, who along with fellow Excel Sports Management agent Matt Laird negotiated the deal. “I credit David, John and their staff for being open-minded and as professional as can be throughout the entire process. It was a positive result for all involved.”