Avila fits into 2011 plans behind plate

Avila fits into 2011 plans behind plate

DETROIT -- The Tigers have plenty of questions to address this offseason. Who will catch is starting to sound like less of a question than it might have been a few weeks ago.

Alex Avila's impromptu test as a regular catcher appears to have taken care of that. While manager Jim Leyland said a lot of his young players aside from Austin Jackson will be competing for spots in the lineup, Avila appears to have his spot wrapped up.

"I would say at this juncture he's more than a candidate," Leyland said Friday.

That doesn't mean the Tigers won't pursue a catcher to share time, but Avila sounds poised to assume more responsibility -- no less than a mix behind the plate and possibly more than that. It's a pretty good scenario to come out of a situation where the Tigers admittedly had to rush Avila to the big leagues.

"Now, I think he's got a chance to settle in as a good Major League catcher for a long time," Leyland said. "Left-handed-hitting catchers are pretty valuable, and I think he's got a chance to be a good one."

Avila has started 19 of Detroit's last 25 games through Friday, a stretch that partly came out of Gerald Laird's back problems. He and Laird have alternated starts this week, but Laird is a free agent at season's end. Laird said on Friday he'll weigh his options this winter, but made it clear playing time will be a big factor as he looks for a job.

"I didn't really tell them I don't want to come back," Laird said. "But if I have better options out there where I'm going to get a chance to play more, I'm probably going to go for those. I know there's going to be teams looking out there. We'll see what happens. I'm just going to look for my best options and try to find the best situation for myself and my family."

While Laird searches the market, Avila plans on focusing his offseason workouts on getting physically stronger to handle a more regular workload.