ST. PETERSBURG – Avisail Garcia is confident the disappointing dropoff in production from his 2017 All-Star performance to last season was the residual of a significant hamstring strain and ongoing right knee issues.
So with his hamstring healed, his knee surgically repaired in early October and the resulting bad habits eradicated from his swing, Garcia is confident he can return to his old form with his new Rays team.
“One hundred percent,’’ Garcia said Friday night, after his deal for $3.5 million, plus up to $2.5 million of plate-appearance based incentives, was finalized. “For sure. I know what I can do. I know my swing. I’ve just got to be healthy and ready to go. And that’s how I am right now.’’
Garcia, 27, was non-tendered by the White Sox after making $6.7 million for an inconsistent 2018 showing in which he hit a career high 19 homers but posted only a .236 average, .719 OPS and 0.3 WAR while limited to 93 games.
“I was fighting the whole season with injuries, up and down, up and down,’’ he said. “You know how it is when you play with pain; sometimes you feel good and sometimes you don’t.''
In 2017, Garcia, whose first name is pronounced ah-vee-sigh-EEL, hit .330 (second in the AL) with 18 homers, .885 OPS and 4.6 WAR.
A righty hitter, Garcia is expected to play rightfield or DH against lefthanded pitchers, against whom he has a career .304 average and .816 OPS, and compete for playing time vs. some righthanders, already working on hitting more to right-center. His outfield play has gotten mixed reviews though he has a strong arm.
Garcia, a Venezuelan who lives in Miami, said he was excited to join the Rays because they “are a competitive team, they play hard, they are close to my home.’’
Garcia gets $250,000 for logging 350 plate appearances, and another $250,000 for every 50 after that up to 600 for a potential total of $1.5 million. If he makes 650 plate appearances, which he has never reached in his first seven big-league seasons, he would get another $1 million.
To create a roster space, the Rays, for the second time this off-season, designated for assignment RHP Oliver Drake.
Drake, who pitched for a single-season record five teams in 2018 (Brewers, Indians, Angels, Blue Jays, Twins), was claimed off waivers from the Twins Nov. 1, then DFA’d Nov. 20. The Blue Jays claimed him, then turned around and DFA’d him Dec. 30, and the Rays re-acquired him for cash considerations on Jan. 4.