Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jays Jettison Rios

Since the Jays are in town and this move effects both the White Sox' playoff chances this year and the direction of the Blue Jays going forward, I figured I would take some time to examine the decision to acquire Yankee Killer Alex Rios off the waiver wire by the White Sox.

Coupled with the Jake Peavy trade, ChiSox GM Kenny Williams has taken on roughly $115M in future salary over the past two weeks. The Sox are one game over .500, so they don't figure to factor into the Wild Card mix, but are still just 3 games in back of the Tigers in the AL Central. Peavy is still on the disabled list and won't make his first minor league start until later this week at the earliest so he probably won't make more than 4 or 5 starts for the Big League club before the end of the regular season.

Rios', on the other hand, will make an immediate impact if used optimally. In his career with the Jays, Rios has primarily held down RF while Vernon Wells played CF. Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin are holding down the starting corner outfield jobs for the Sox, which would be a problem were it not for the fact that Rios is a more than capable CF as well. He's much better than Wells, actually. In 106 games in CF, Rios has a UZR/150 of 12.8 whereas Wells' is -6.8. The Sox started Ken Griffey, Jr. in CF for 32 games last year, so they obviously aren't too concerned with shifting someone from a corner spot to center.

Considering the meager production the Sox are getting out of their current center fielders (.224/.281/.313), Rios' line of .264/.338/.383 is a significant upgrade, even before you consider the boost he'll be getting from playing at US Cellular Field. He's also a base stealing threat with 32 last year and 19 already this season.

Despite being in his physical prime at 28 years old, Rios is having a down year, which is the major reason the Blue Jays decided to let the White Sox walk away with him for nothing more than the required $20,000 transfer fee. The two teams engaged in negotiations before the trade deadline, meaning the Sox would have actually had to give up something at that point, but they waited it out, were the only team to make a waiver claim and got him for essentially nothing.

From the Blue Jays' perspective, they shed a major chunk of salary (not the one they really wanted to, though), but also parted with Rios at his lowest value thus far in his career. Even still, he will come close to equaling his contract value this year and has far exceeded even the $12.5M he is due in 2014 in both 2007 and 2008 according to FanGraphs. And those numbers calculate his value mostly as a RF, not a CF.

Does this move foreshadow a Roy Halladay trade this offseason? Dumping a productive player with a long term deal like Rios for salary reasons and getting nothing in return doesn't exactly signal the desire to compete now. This is a step beyond the Scott Rolen move. By dealing Halladay, they could save themselves a significant amount of money and net some good prospects in return, if they are indeed moving towards rebuilding. I'd be willing to be that the Jays would have tried harder to find a place for Halladay if they knew they could dump Rios after the deadline.

It's possible that Rios' offensive production will continue to decline and the Jays are thrilled with their decision in a few years, but I think it's more likely that they watch him become a solid contributor for the White Sox and regret the fact that it made financial sense at the time to get rid of him. If Rios were to hit the free agent market this offseason, he almost surely wouldn't get the kind of contract he is signed to, but the way that the baseball economy moves from here through 2014 could make the deal look very shrewd or very foolish on either side.

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