By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) The free-agent signing of catcher Alex Avila gives the White Sox some options and versatility they have lacked in recent seasons.
Sharing the catching load with Geovany Soto last year, White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers had a metrically mixed season. Flowers has had a positive impact on the team’s pitching staff, with upper-level numbers in pitch-framing stats (ranked fourth in baseball). He also was fourth in baseball with a .995 fielding percentage in 2015, with just five errors in 112 games. A couple of glaring negatives have been the 30-year-old Flowers’ range and frequent passed balls.
Flowers had the second-most passed balls in baseball with 15 last season, and he threw out 25 percent of would-be stolen-base attempts. By comparison, Avila had a 27 percent rate.
For Flowers, the offensive numbers over two full seasons are a composite average of 12 home runs and 45 RBIs with a .240 batting average. His strikeout ratio of 38 percent is disturbing, as is the affable catcher’s hot and cold streaks. To his credit, Flowers played through numerous injuries that would have put lesser player on the shelf.
Avila, 28, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the White Sox on Wednesday, is coming off an injury-plagued season of his own. He lost his job to James McCann in 2015. The catching metrics were better for Avila early in his career, while the offensive numbers have declined since his breakout season of 2011, in which he hit 19 home runs and 82 RBIs and earned the Silver Slugger Award.
“We have been looking to get better offensively at a number of positions, and catcher is certainly one of them,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “Alex is a left-handed option there. We believe he will help us make some improvements offensively at that spot. The success of our pitching staff and the run-prevention side is an important element. The general answer is we need to get better anywhere we can offensively.”
Hahn wouldn’t commit to the Flowers-Avila rotation behind the plate. The team brought up journeyman Rob Brantly to catch at times last September.
“It is important to have depth,” Hahn said. “I don’t want to rule out anything at this point. There is no specific spot on the roster I am going to confirm playing time. We are approaching this offseason with as many options as we can to make the roster deeper, with enough flexibility on a given day to match up.”
Hahn said he will continue to pursue players to improve the team. He expects the talks for trades to heat up right after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.