The Future Of Alex Rios [Rios Acquired by White Sox]

UPDATE: THE WHITE SOX HAVE ACQUIRED ALEX RIOS FROM THE BLUE JAYS FOR NOTHING IN RETURN. In the wake of this news I've decided to bump this analysis to the top.

Buster Olney today has reported that 28 year old Blue Jays OF Alex Rios has been claimed on waivers.  As Olney states in the article, this leaves the Blue Jays with three options.

• They could work out a trade with the team that claimed Rios.
• They could pull him back from waivers, and keep him for themselves the rest of this season.
• They could simply allow the team that claimed him to take him, at no cost.

The obvious question then remains.  What should the Blue Jays do with Rios?

 

 

 

 

Let's take a look at what we know about Alex Rios.  From Cot's Contracts:

Alex Rios of
7 years/$69.835M (2008-14), plus 2015 club option

  • 7 years/$69.835M (2008-14), plus 2015 club option
    • signed extension with Toronto 4/4/08, re-working 2008 deal signed 2/5/08 ($3.5M signing bonus remains, 2008 salary reduced from $1.335M to $0.735M)
    • 08:$0.735M, 09:$5.9M, 10:$9.7M, 11:$12M, 12:$12M, 13:$12.5M, 14:$12.5M, 15:$13.5M club option ($1M buyout)
    • full no-trade clause, 2009-10
    • limited no-trade clause, 2011 - end of deal (may block trades to 6 clubs)

Especially in this economy, the $62MM in guaranteed money remaining on Rios's contract would deter many teams from acquiring any player, much less one struggling like Rios this year (.261/.315/.413 line and exactly average UZR this year vs. a career line of  .285/.335/.449 and +14 UZR/150).  Still, Rios has shown the ability to play at a high level, as his career line would indicate.   From 2006-2008, Rios steadily ascended from a good player (3.3 wins in 2006) to an elite one (5.5 wins in 2008).  Rios's decent hitting numbers (wOBAs ranging from .350-.370) and excellent fielding numbers (+42 UZR in RF over the three year span) had many people predicting him to be an incredible asset going forward, making this contract a bargain.  So, then, what should we expect out of Rios going forward?  Did our mystery team claim the 5.5 win player of last year, the roughly 1.5 win player of this year, or something inbetween?  

Anybody familiar with the concept of regression will know that the answer is "something inbetween."  Let's try and pinpoint some sort of range.  ZiPS projects Rios for a .347 wOBA going forward, 22 points higher than his current 2009 line and very much in line with his performance in 2008 (.350), but a solid amount lower than his 2006-2007 performance (.365 and .368 respectively).  Over 200 PAs in the rest of 2009, that would put Rios at +3.3 bRAA, and +10 over a 600 PA season.  Most importantly, however, is the big difference we've seen in Rios's fielding this year.  So far, Rios is rated at exactly 0 runs above average by UZR.  Certainly, UZR has been known to be wrong in the past, and in some cases, we would not be surprised with a great fielder over a few years to have been rated incorrectly.  In order to say if this is the case with Rios, let's look at his whole career by UZR.  For now, let's just look at Rios's primary position, right field, although he has played 106 career games in CF.

Even without using any math, it's pretty plainly obvious that Rios is a much better defender than the -0.8 UZR he's put up this year.   CHONE projected Rios at +5 in a corner spot this year (TotalZone doesn't like Rios as much as UZR).  A Marcel-type weighting of 2008, 2007, and 2006 including two full seasons of average fielding would expect Rios to be at +5 UZR as well.  With 5 seasons of at least a +8 UZR, it's obvious that his true fielding talent is far above the -0.8 he's at this year.  I think in Rios's case, we can give far more weight to his previous fielding data (specifically the 2004 season that isn't included) than the Marcel projection does, and call him a +10 UZR going forward.

Now, with this information, we can make some sort of projection of Rios's value going forward.  We have a wOBA projection of +10  bRAA and a UZR projection of +10 fRAA.  Given roughly 5 runs of uncertainty each way on both measures, we can project Rios as a +2.25-+4.25 win player going forward.  Let's use a middling (yet volatile) projection and take a look at it in the Trade Value Calculator.

This projection (assuming his 2015 option is bought out) includes what some may consider a high projection for next year, but it also declines at a pretty quick rate for the next few years.  Personally, I think Rios could still be a 4-5 win player for a couple years to come.  Still, with his huge contract, i see two types of teams that could (and should) go after Rios.  

 

  1. Large market teams with any sort of need at OF.  He's clearly not a bust like Vernon Wells, and even if he's only a two win player, a large market team can sustain that sort of risk.
  2. Any team with a championship window closing soon.  Rios probably has 2 or 3 years of plus production remaining after this year, but small market teams would have to be prepared for the last few years to be disappointing.
In the end, Ricciardi is making a huge mistake if he doesn't get anything in return for Rios.  If Jake Peavy can fetch a package of Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, Adam Russell, and Dexter Carter, there's no way the Jays should just let Rios go for nothing.
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