If you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to break up the text with Alex Rios videos.
Alex Rios is gone, which is probably more significant than it is getting treated as, even if a dismissive wave of the hand is understandable given that the guy was barely scratching out league average offense by the time he was sent down to the rogue state of Texas.
His acquisition was a phenomenal risk undertaken by Kenny Williams to mask his organization’s inability to develop five-tool talents like Rios on their own, nor win bidding wars for top-flight free agents. His .260/.310/.430 batting line on the South Side was a small but meaningful step down from what could have been expected based on his time in Toronto, and he simultaneously failed the team egregiously when they needed him most (He and Dunn co-murdered the All In, 2011 team) and was as vital as any position player on the team over the last two seasons. He could maybe even make a case, albeit not one necessarily worth listening to, for being snubbed from the All-Star team twice.
This high degree of fluctuation from simply playing at his best, or even just his average, as well as an understated demeanor, fit in smoothly with the idea that Rios is lethargic and disengaged, paid handsomely for his services and unmotivated to provide them.
Admittedly, I reflexively cringe every time this line of thought is trotted out. It’s a sentiment so often steeped in baseless anti-player bile, tacked onto resentment over salaries that only lightly hint at just how much of a cash cow professional sports are for said player’s employers and funneled into a subjective and near impossible assessment of whether a player is actually trying his hardest–that I often try to dispute it even if there’s some evidence.
Rios’ demeanor when he crashed into the right-center field wall running down a Billy Butler fly ball and ended his 2011 season was pretty similar to the one he wore when he dogged out ground balls or pissed away at-bats, and the famously jogged out double play this season came only two months after he raced out an infield single to save the Sox the shame of getting perfect game’d by Matt Harvey.
It’s not like the loafing didn’t exist. The incidents that forged fan distrust of his effort level happened and even the day of the trade, 670 AM’s Laurence Holmes commented on how the White Sox “had to get [Rios] out of there” in reference to his clubhouse presence, similar to the way he became more open about Jake Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski‘s distaste for one another or Ozzie Guillen‘s declining grip on the team shortly after it stopped being an ongoing issue. But it would be a mistake to ignore the duality of the guy
I have my doubts that Rios is actually as complicated as unprompted tweets about the architecture of local hospitals would make him seem. It’s just another confusing detail about a guy who hinted plenty that there was much more to his performance than aging curves, park factors and mechanics, but little evidence to what it might be. That might ultimately be a more frustrating package that the simple uncaring athlete archetype, but it wasn’t all bad and could have easily been remembered a lot better.
Now, in the wake of Rios is Avisail Garcia immediately strutting up to Chicago, boasting the forever-hallowed “five-tool” package. All the glowing talk of his mixture of speed, power and athleticism is more than a little reminiscent of all that Rios was pitched to be upon his arrival in 2009. The responsibility might mirror Rios’ origins in Chicago as well.There’s time for him to struggle through finding his footing at the end of a lost season now, but with the Sox looking to pivot quickly, he may be expected to be a middle of the order bat for a contending team as soon as next year.
I was hoping that Garcia would come up, and in his first three games dispel every concern about his development in existence by taking five walks and pulling high-level fastballs out to left field with ease. Instead he was just surprisingly fast, which made notions of him playing center field seem less implausible, albeit still needless. Even passing judgment on what Garcia does for the rest of this season might be a waste unless there are some particularly glaring indicators, good or bad. But it would certainly be helpful if between him and Dayan Viciedo, the White Sox got a hint that one of their swing-happy young corner outfielders was capable of shouldering the responsibilities of the role. For the Sox to use their newly found room in the budget for a flash-flood rebuild, it will help to know where the holes are and aren’t.
Leury Garcia, a hyper-kinetic superlative fielding middle infielder coming back from Texas, certainly doesn’t answer the question of how the White Sox will rebuild their offense, since offense is the one thing he doesn’t do. All-defense middle infielders can be perfectly valuable pieces, but this is the wrong organization for another guy who projects to punt away his place in the lineup and make it up to the team elsewhere. Additionally, Jim Margalus pointed out, with Marcus Semien and Carlos Sanchez both in Triple-A (although Sanchez is momentarily sidelined with an injury), the White Sox are in a rare position of not having a great place to put a prospect.
Even the utility future for Garcia is crowded a bit by Jeff Keppinger being scheduled to mill around for another two seasons. Depth is a necessary feature of any organization, but there’s really some work to be done to figure out how Garcia fits into future plans.
The White Sox have passed on the heavy lifting of reshaping their roster to the offseason, which doesn’t do many favors to the Garcias they’ve acquired and the expectations placed on them. They’re joining a team that it’s a middle space, whose struggles have no immediate answer nor path to reconciliation.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan