In the last bit of official recognition his 2012 performance will receive, Alex Rios finished 15th in last week’s AL MVP voting.
From a pure value perspective, it’s a hard case to argue that he deserved that much. Austin Jackson and Alex Gordon were left completely out of the voting, averagish platoon-DH Raul Ibanez received a down-ballot vote, and Orioles closer Jim Johnson finished a spot ahead of Rios, and only needed to turn in 68.2 innings of work to do it. Trusting this system to nail much more than the top spot is a farce, and even that…well, there’s been some debate.
But Alex finished as high as he did because the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales voted him 5th. Since no one else had him higher than 9th, it could be fairly classified as a hometown vote. But Gonzales also had a better understanding of the context of Rios’ season than his fellow voters had, and it’s the context of his performance that was special
Alex Rios transformed himself. He overhauled his plate approach at the age of 31, became re-invested in his defense after retreating to a role of less responsibility, and was reborn as a trusted clutch performer. Nothing was more alarming, and emblematic than Rios’ double play break-up that keyed the decisive two-run rally in the final head-to-head matchup with Detroit.
Not only did the tenacity of Rios’ single play represent a sea change from when he could have served as a mascot of the 2011 White Sox–ineffectual and obstinate until their deservedly bitter end–but it spoke to the nature of his 2012 performance that by September, the notion of Rios racing in and sacrificing his body with little hope of affecting the play wasn’t shocking at all.
A .304/.334/.516 batting line in U.S. Cellular Field is good, but ultimately very forgettable in terms of great seasons. Rios got on base just as often as Adam Dunn, simply in a far more aesthetically pleasing fashion. The pure awfulness of Dunn’s 2011 gained so much national attention that his return to decency will actually sport some shelf life. Yet it will be a shame if a similar treatment isn’t given to Rios re-casting himself from a loathsome albatross, into not only a trade asset, but an asset that the White Sox have grown too fond of to actually use.
In the next few days, or perhaps still a few more weeks, the roster should be transformed, or at least altered to some degree, and 2012 will fade away as optimism/dread builds until it is acted upon in the form of what level of applause Rick Hahn receives at SoxFest. It’s the circle of life. But before we enter that transition, here’s one last call to remember what Alex Rios did in 2012. It was really enjoyable.
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