Today’s post is short, is for everyone, and provides an abject lesson in albatross contracts and organizational patience. Alex Rios has been a pretty good player since entering the majors in 2004. He’s been a terrific defender as both a rightfielder and centerfielder and, save for 2009, has been a good hitter since 2006. After the 2007 season, the Blue Jays dangled Rios in attempt to nab a young pitcher, their attempt to get Matt Cain perhaps being the most notable. Instead, they signed him to a 7 year, 70 million dollar extension. Rios continued to play well until last year, when, in combination with Vernon Wells, he helped form one of the least productive and most expensive outfields in baseball.
In August of 2009, Rios was placed on waivers. Now, most players are placed on waivers during August. Teams do this to determine who is still is tradeable after they July 31st trade deadline. If a players passes through waivers unclaimed by the 29 other teams, he can be traded to anyone between August 1 and August 31, after the true trading deadline. If a player is claimed, his current team can do one of several things: they can pull him off waivers; they can attempt to work out a trade with the claiming team; or they can simply give the player (and his contract) to the claiming team. Teams often claim players in August that they have no interest in, simply to not allow the player to be traded to another contender. This is not without risk though, due to the final option listed.
Rios was claimed by the White Sox last summer and the Blue Jays decided to let him go for nothing to get out from under his contract. I’ve written previously about the disaster that is Vernon Wells’ contract. In addition to not producing at nearly that level, it costs his team financial flexibility and doesn’t allow for more mistakes. When the Jays decided to cut B.J. Ryan and trade Roy Halladay, they thought they were going to be rebuilding. While Rios was a player they should have been rebuilding around, they saw an opportunity to shed payroll and took it.
The beneficiary of all this is Kenny Williams and the White Sox. Not only did they get a 4+ WAR player for less than his market value, but they increased his value by putting him in centerfield full-time, where he has not only been adequate but has excelled. The Blue Jays couldn’t do this because their “franchise” was manning centerfield and Rios was shifted to right. This adjustment alone will add somewhere between 0.5 to 1.0 WAR for Rios in 2010, maybe more if he continues his terrific defense.
There was nothing about 2009 that showed his skill set as a hitter had changed. He walked and struck out just as often and showed just as much home run power, but had some bad luck with balls in play. The Blue Jays made a terrible decision when they signed Wells to his extension; now, not only do they pay for it by paying a player much more than his on-field value for 8 seasons, but it apparently cost them a below-market asset to build around.