We’ve been hearing over the last few days that the Cubs aren’t quite as high on Alex Avila as what was first thought. Whether that’s because of the asking price for the rental catcher, who would see a decided reduction in playing time in Chicago, or because Avila’s offensive production has plummeted in the last month (probably both), he isn’t the primary target these days.
Ken Rosenthal tweeted Friday afternoon that the Cubs are seeking a “defense-first” type and that Avila was still on the list but was not a “current priority.” This could further signal what was reported Thursday afternoon by Bruce Levine and reiterated by Rosenthal last night, which is that talks regarding Justin Verlander have reached an impasse.
Wait, how did we get to the pitcher from talk about Avila? It’s no secret that the Tigers are trying to bundle players together to get as much return as possible while still dumping salary, so presenting a battery package to a team known to be searching for upgrades at both backup catcher and the rotation makes sense. The Cubs have had talks regarding both Verlander and Avila, so it’s possible there was some all-or-nothing business going on there.
Still, the big sticking point was likely the asking price for Avila, whose potential offensive production would really just be gravy when he’s in the lineup only once or twice a week. He’d be a good veteran presence, sure, but it’s not as though the Cubs are going wanting in the leadership department. What it sounds like they’re prioritizing is a guy who doesn’t mind riding the bench and who can simply come in and manage games once in a while.
It doesn’t hurt that such a catcher isn’t going to cost much. Now the question is just who they get to fill that role. Jonathan Lucroy is the sexiest name out there, but he seems like an incongruous fit for a number of reasons. A.J. Ellis, a long-time veteran in sort of that David Ross mold, is another option who’s been mentioned. But Jed Hoyer indicated that the Cubs could be looking at five or more players to back up Willson Contreras.
The Mets’ Rene Rivera makes sense on multiple levels. He wouldn’t command much in terms of prospect cost and is owed less than $750,000 in this, the last year of his contract. Rivera is a glove-first guy who can still handle the stick a little bit too. Kurt Suzuki could be another possibility, as he’s done a better job of throwing out runners this season. The 33-year-old will only make about $650,000 through the end of the year and the Braves probably won’t need much to part with him.
Among other potentially-available backstops, most are either bat-first (Nick Hundley), too costly (Welington Castillo), or have more control than the Cubs might be looking to acquire (Tucker Barnhart, Cameron Rupp). I’d like to see them go after Jett Bandy (currently in AAA) if only for the name, but it’s hard to imagine the Brewers doing such a deal. Kevin Plawecki — who was born in Hinsdale, IL and grew up in Westfield, IN — is another guy languishing in the minors, but he doesn’t make sense for the Cubs.
All things considered, my money is on Ellis at this point, which means you should put yours elsewhere if your bookie is taking such wagers.