Trade speculation is one of the core activities of a sports fan. Listen to any sports radio show this time of year and you’ll hear fans calling in designing trade scenarios that range from the plausible to the cartoonishly absurd. Growing up in the New York area, I got to listen to WFAN and hear fans calling in suggesting the Yankees dump their garbage for other teams’ stars. “Let’s trade Sterling Hitchcock and Karim Garcia for Grady Sizemore!” you’d hear the callers insist in 2003.
At the risk of sounding like one of those callers, let’s kill some time over the All Star Break by looking at potential trade destinations for Alex Rios. Once we’ve figured that out, we’ll have an idea of what the White Sox might be able to ask for in exchange for Rios.
A number of teams are obviously sellers, some look like they’ll be competing for the playoffs all the way down to the wire, and then the rest occupy some sort of grey area. Sizing up the standings, run differentials, and rosters, the teams that are clearly competing are, give or take:
Boston, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, New York (AL), Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland, Texas, Atlanta, Washington, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Los Angeles (NL).
Then there are the grey area teams that could conceivably force their way back in with a huge second half, are already so pot-committed that they might as well keep pushing for this season, or are just…not run very well and can’t identify when they’re beaten. Those are:
Toronto, Kansas City, Los Angeles (AL), Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Colorado.
Yes, that’s 20 teams, although with the new playoffs half of them will actually make it in. The expanded playoffs are helpful to selling teams in the sense that it makes for more potential buyers, which increases a seller’s leverage. So let’s start whittling down that list to get to our potential trade partners for the White Sox.
Some of those teams aren’t looking for outfielders – and remember as we go through them that any team that acquires Rios isn’t just trying to shoehorn him in for the next two months, they’ll be committed to him for $13 million in 2014 (this figure is ratcheted up from $12.5 million, as a trade would trigger a clause in his contract), and at least a $1 million buyout in 2015.
Boston has Ellsbury-Victorino and then a perfectly good platoon of Carp-Nava-Gomes. They probably won’t be interested in Rios. Baltimore is set with Renaissance McLouth-Jones-Markakis. The Rays have their outfield pretty much set with Wil Myers holding his own, and they’re not going to want to take on big salaries anyway.
Oakland won’t want to add big dollars either, and they’re fine with Cespedes and Reddick in the corners and Crisp/Young in center. Washington has Harper-Span-Werth and absolutely isn’t in the market for an outfielder.
Between the phobia of intradivisional trading and the emergence of Matt Tuiasosopo, the Tigers aren’t a likely destination. The Indians have the same intradivisional caveat, probably can’t take on that much money, are more likely to be looking for pitching, and can probably get by with Drew Stubbs out there.
If the Cardinals ever want another outfielder they’ll just call up their super prospect Oscar Tavares – they won’t be trading value for a guy like Rios. Pittsburgh would have been an intriguing possibility, because even though Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen had 2/3 of the outfield on lockdown, Travis Snider has been underwhelming to say the least. However, former top prospect Jose Tabata is still only 24-years old and has put together 136 very good PAs so far this year. Pittsburgh doesn’t seem like the team that will take on $13 million to fill a hole that they may be able to fix cheaply and internally, although I suppose breaking their 20-year streak of sub-.500 seasons may be worth an investment.
The Diamondbacks have been linked to the White Sox in the past, but for pitching – they have a glut of outfielders. I was baffled when they signed Cody Ross in the first place. But they have him, Adam Eaton, Gerardo Parra, and Jason Kubel. Not likely.
The Dodgers have a stupid amount of money, and plenty of injuries in their outfield – but with Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford back after or soon after the All Star Break, and this guy Yasiel Puig, whom you may have heard of, it just doesn’t seem like a good fit.
It’s hard to see the Blue Jays trading to get Alex Rios back after putting him on waivers years ago to avoid his paycheck, especially with the presence of Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, and Jose Bautista. The Royals are desperate to compete this year, selling their future to go all-in with a mediocre roster – but once again, the intradivisional barrier exists, and the Royals are notoriously cheap. They’ll likely try to cobble together David Lough and Jarrod Dyson into their 3rd outfielder alongside Cain and Gordon. Theoretically the White Sox could offer to pick up a lot of Rios’ salary, and maybe Dayton Moore will keep trying to save his job with a winning season such that he offers some prospects, but it seems unlikely.
Colorado is one of the more stacked teams outfield-wise, having Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez – who is actually good, despite Chris Sale absolutely obliterating him in the All Star Game.
Having done all of that – with the caveat that weird things happen, and any of these teams I’ve ruled out may go rogue and just pony up good value (or some prospect the White Sox have a crush on) for Rios anyway – we are left with the following possible trade partners:
Texas, New York (AL), Cincinnati, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Atlanta.
The Braves have somehow gone from having arguably the best outfield in the majors to having a mash unit, with B.J. Upton completely ineffective to begin with. They still strike me as a bit of a long shot, as Heyward and Justin Upton’s injuries appear to be relatively minor, and it’s hard to imagine them making a big cash investment to cover for B.J. Upton on a temporary basis. It’s unclear what they would do with Rios next year, given that they’re committed to those three guys long term. I nearly ruled them out entirely, but B.J. Upton’s implosion has been so extraordinary that it’s worth putting in the maybe pile.
The Yankees are going through as odd of a season as I can remember for them in my lifetime. They’re going through self-imposed austerity, as well as an absurd flood of injuries. Their pitching is excellent, but they need any help they can get on offense. In the past I’d say that Rios would be a really obvious Yankee trade target, but he’s big money for next year, the Yankees are already spending a $6 million a year this year and next on the useless husk of Vernon Wells, and more money on Ichiro Suzuki. They may seek help at the infield corners, but I’d have to imagine they’re stuck with Ichiro in right, and they’ll just hope Curtis Granderson can return sooner rather than later. Then again, we’ve also seen that although Brian Cashman is extremely competent, the Yankees brass often overrules him to make a splashy acquisition. Further complicating matters, the Yankees are the only relevant team to appear on Alex Rios’ no trade list. Rios is able to block trades to the Yankees, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas City, Houston, and Oakland. The Yankees are the only realistic trade partner for Rios in that group. He may choose to not to exercise that right if the Yankees throw in some extra goodies, but it does potentially gum up the works even further.
Texas is a weird trade partner in this context. Rios would absolutely be an upgrade on David Murphy – or if Lance Berkman has more injury problems, moving Nelson Cruz to DH and replacing his glove with Rios’ would also be a big boost for Texas. Further, Texas has a multitude of prospects of varying quality levels. The problem is that the Rangers hoard their prospects. For example – not that they are directly relevant to a Rios trade – Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar derive a huge amount of their value from their ability to play 3B and SS respectively. Despite the fact that the Rangers have blocked both of those spots with Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus for years and years to come, Jon Daniels has refused to deal them for positions of need. I love Jurickson Profar, but Jurickson Profar: Light Hitting Left Fielder is a pretty underwhelming use of the #1 prospect in baseball. The latest reports were that the Rangers wouldn’t even part with Martin Perez – whose stock is way down, shiny ERA in a tiny sample aside – in exchange for Matt Garza.
Someone should probably tell Texas that they’re in a dogfight for a playoff spot and that they’re in the middle of a contention cycle, but Texas is reluctant to trade their minor leaguers to the point of damaging themselves. If the White Sox can get them to bite on Rios, I’m not sure I’d want whatever they can pry out of Texas’ grip.
The Cincinnati Reds have found themselves in much more of a battle for the playoffs than I believe most would have anticipated. The two-team division has turned into a three-team one, with the emergence of Pittsburgh. Left field has been a problem for them this year, although clearly Choo and Bruce have the other two slots well in hand. Ryan Ludwick is likely out for another month, and his efficacy is not a sure thing. His replacements – Xavier Paul and Chris Heisey – have struggled mightily.
The Reds look like a bit of a long shot, but I’d be interested to see if the White Sox could pry away Jesse Winker in such a deal. Winker would be an unusual commodity in the White Sox system, as a guy who has a good, patient approach, but lacks athleticism. Winker may be liability defensively in a corner outfield slot, and may not have enough power to keep his walks up as he advances. Still, he’s only 19 and playing in Low A and would be a fun change of pace for the White Sox. The rest of the Reds’ preseason Top 10 is essentially pitchers, Billy Hamilton, and a guy named Jonathan Reynoso who seems to be entirely tools with almost zero baseball skill.
I’ll wrap this huge wall of text up by talking about the Phillies. Ruben Amaro has already stripped a once-prosperous farm bare to build the current 48-48 Phillies squad. They’re at .500 despite having surrendered significantly more runs than they have scored. The rest of their schedule looks pretty brutal, and they will be without the services of Ryan Howard and Ben Revere for most of the remaining season. Still, Ruben Amaro has recently alluded to being buyers anyway at the coming deadline, and with Revere hurt they could use a center fielder. Rios hasn’t played center in years, but in a world where Choo gets moved to center field in 2013, it’s not impossible. Amaro likes veterans and famously doesn’t put an emphasis on walks – both marks in Rios’ favor.
The types of guys the White Sox might target are Cody Asche and Darin Ruf. Asche is currently playing 3B in AAA for the Phillies, and he has good contact skills and decent pop, although his patience leaves something to be desired. Darin Ruf looks like his bat is good enough to be an okay major leaguer, but he just can’t field anywhere other than first base. The White Sox look to have one of 1B or DH open next year, really need impact bats, and need to get creative to get them. If the Phillies are trying to compete this year then they aren’t really in a position to deal arms away, and the injury to Howard opens up Ruf’s natural position. Carlos Tocci is a 17-year old lotto ticket from Venezuela who has a very high ceiling and a very low chance of achieving it – it is unlikely that Philadelphia will part with him. It would make sense for Philly, given their ill-advised goals of continuing to go for it this year, as he can cover CF in a pinch, and then slide over to right for next season when their silly commitment to Delmon Young ends.
The Giants are in rough shape – they’re 6.5 games out in their division and they’re behind two teams that are almost certainly better than they are. They also will be missing Angel Pagan until at least September. Rios would be a big upgrade on Gregor Blanco or Andres Torres, and ability to hit the ball into gaps would play well in AT&T Park. So the question is how does Brian Sabean weigh these two forces against each other? Coming off of two World Series wins in three years, he can absolutely afford to roll the dice if he so chooses. Sabean also loves going after veterans who have similar hacker profiles as Rios – Aubrey Huff, Freddie Sanchez, and Hunter Pence come to mind. I don’t know the Giants farm system too well, but at a glance, if the White Sox are bat shopping, Gary Brown has petered out tremendously at upper levels and is looking more and more like a 4th or 5th burner outfielder type. Roger Kieschnick may be the correct type of value in return, although he has taken a step back in an extremely hitter-friendly league. The Giants do have arms around if the White Sox want to go in that direction.
Conclusion: The market for Alex Rios is not as clear as I hoped it would be at the end of this exercise. I had assumed New York and Texas would be stronger candidates to acquire him, but there are complicating variables in the tendencies of their front offices that seem to neutralize the on-the-field fit.
The Reds and Phillies actually appear to be the best fit when looked at from this angle.
Every single potential landing place has some argument against it, but all it takes is one GM to decide that the pros of trading for Rios outweigh the cons. The nice thing about shopping a player like Rios is that if the White Sox don’t get the return that they want – especially given his pre-deadline slump – then they can simply hang onto him and try to deal him in the offseason or at next year’s deadline if they haven’t rebuilt.
As I mentioned in my last article, the White Sox should be able to field competitive pitching next year. Perhaps it’s worth hanging onto Rios to see if his bat can be a big part of a rebuilt offense.