Avila will retire at season’s end, plans to work in baseball

Alex Avila came to his decision several months ago, before those double calf strains that threw a complete wrench into what he already knew would be the final season of his career. So the 34-year-old catcher has had plenty of time to contemplate what life will be like in retirement, a decision he chose to publicly announce today.

“I went through that back-and-forth in my head, as far as if I wanted to play for another year,” he said in a group interview in the Nationals dugout prior to today’s series finale against the Rockies. “But I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while, even since last year. And just came to the conclusion after debating it with myself and my wife that this was the right time.”

Avila-Fields-Throws-Gray-Sidebar.jpgAvila will walk away after 13 big league seasons with six different organizations, the first eight of them with the Tigers, where he enjoyed his best seasons. An All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner in 2011, he made the playoffs four straight years in Detroit and reached the World Series in 2012.

He also was part of playoff teams with the Cubs in 2017 and the Twins in 2020 and hit three October home runs. He did not, however, get to experience the ultimate celebration.

“I have a lot of great moments in this game, but the one regret I do have is not being able to win a World Series with one of those Detroit teams,” he said. “I think all of us on those teams, that’s our one regret, not being able to do that. I have so many great moments, but that’s the one thing I guess on the negative side that I think about and wish we would’ve been able to do.”

Avila hoped he might get one more shot at glory when he signed with the Nationals last winter, joining what still was a star-laden roster that included his former Tigers teammate Max Scherzer, former Cubs teammates Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester and former Diamondbacks teammate Patrick Corbin, plus Stephen Strasburg, Trea Turner and Juan Soto.

But that, of course, didn’t work out and Avila now finds himself one of the few remaining veterans on a team that has embarked on a full-scale rebuild.

Signed to be the Nationals’ No. 2 catcher behind Yan Gomes, Avila struggled to get going at the plate. He’s batting only .179 in 99 plate appearances, but he has produced a respectable on-base percentage of .347. And nine of his 14 hits have been for extra bases.

Avila also worked well behind the plate during the season’s first half, throwing out six of 15 basestealers, a 40 percent rate well above the league average of 25 percent.

In the end, Avila’s season was derailed by a freak injury while playing an unfamiliar position. On July 1, with Turner and Jordy Mercer both injured and no other healthy infielders on the active roster or able to get to D.C. from the minor leagues in time, Avila started at second base for the first time in his career. His night in the field was uneventful, but both of his legs were so sore the following day that he got an MRI, which revealed calf strains in both legs. Avila wouldn’t return to play for two months, though that stint on the injured list also was prolonged after he tested positive for COVID-19 and was required to quarantine and not work out for 10 days.

Nonetheless, the Nationals still appreciated Avila’s contributions this season, whether on or off the field.

“It’s his veteran presence, one,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “Two, it’s his conversations not only with young guys but with older guys as well. If you see him, he’s constantly having conversations with everyone. He’s a world of knowledge when it comes to baseball. He understands the game very well.”

Given that, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows him that Avila intends to continue to work in baseball after retiring as a player. His father, Al, is the Tigers’ longtime general manager, though Alex insists they haven’t spoken yet about a coaching or front office job.

Avila plans first to spend the offseason at home in South Florida with his wife, Kristina, and his daughters Avery (8) and Zoey (6). But come next spring he fully intends to be working in some capacity, ready to embark on the next chapter of his baseball life.

“I don’t know what that is yet, but once the season’s over and going into the next few months, we’ll figure that out and see where it goes,” he said. “But I’ll be involved. I love the game way too much not to be. I’m excited for doing something new.”

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