Should the White Sox Trade Alex Rios?


I wish you weren’t so expensive, Alex. (Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE)
Making trade proposals is a time-honored tradition for the baseball fan.  It’s a good way to have an animated discussion with another fan, and it’s fun to do.  However, fans often fall into the trap of wanting to sell low and buy high.  It makes sense – in baseball when someone’s going well it’s natural to look at it and assume it will continue, because hey – he looks great.  Remember how people were predicting Triple Crowns for Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp in April?  Conversely, when someone’s in a slump it often looks like they’re never going to hit again.  GMs not only fear losing in value on a trade, but they also want to protect themselves from criticism.  If you acquire someone coming off a down year, or get rid of someone coming off a good year and get burned, people are going to call you an idiot.  However, I think that in many situations it’s the way to go.  More specifically, I think the White Sox should explore trading Alex Rios this offseason if they can.

Let’s look at Alex Rios as an asset.  He is still owed $12.5 million for the 2013 season and another $12.5 million for the 2014 season.  There is a $13.5 million club option for 2015 with a $1 million buyout.  As far as trading him is concerned, he can block trades to 6 clubs, and will receive an extra $500,000 per season if he is traded.  Rios turns 32 in February. Here’s a snapshot of what he’s done over the past three years:

From a distance, there are some clear virtues to Rios as a player.  For his career he has managed an OPS+ of 101, with a few above average seasons in the last three.  While he is overmatched in center at this point in his career, Rios is certainly a plus defensive player in right field.  He’s still fairly athletic, stealing bases efficiently last year, covering good ground in right field, and padding his line with 37 doubles and 8 triples.

Unfortunately, even in the best of times Alex Rios does not get on base very often.   He hasn’t had an OBP over .340 since 2007, and has gotten on at a .324 clip for his career as a whole. 2012 may have been the best year of his career, but he was still only reaching base at a .334 rate.  For reference, league average across all of Major League Baseball was .319.  Over the past three years Rios has walked 91 times combined – Joey Votto walked 94 times this year alone despite missing 50 games.  Also a touch perplexing is the fact that Rios had one more walk in his abysmal 2011 than he did in his strong 2012.  Rios’ inability to draw a walk means that the bulk of his value is tied up in his ability to hit for solid contact, which we have seen abandon him for months, or even entire seasons.  And hence my suggestion – mightn’t the White Sox want to sell on Rios now while his value is high and there might be some takers?

Even selling high on Rios you will likely have to cover some of his deal if you want to get any talent back in the other direction. Rios at $12.5 million a year for two years isn’t very appetizing – but if the White Sox pick up $6 million a year, teams may be willing to pick up Rios for 2 years and $14 million. Who are the potential buyers?  The Red Sox have big holes in their outfield, a lot of free payroll, and a front office that I would be happy for the White Sox to target as a trade partner.  The Mariners’ could absolutely use help in the outfield.  The Marlins, Mets, Phillies, and Giants could all also use Rios’ services depending on how the rest of the offseason shakes out.

You also have to look at the free agent options – most notably these are Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Angel Pagan, Cody Ross, Melky Cabrera, and B.J. Upton.  Many of those guys are clearly better than Rios, but several them are not, and Rios presents something that makes him more attractive than a lot of free agents: He’s only a two year commitment.

There aren’t a lot of obvious internal options to replace Rios should he go. Jordan Danks can field the position, although it’s hard to say how much he’ll be able to offer with the bat.  Danks is certainly the most polished option, being 26-years old and having played 2.5 years at AAA, posting a .322/.432/.523 line this past year.  Trayce Thompson and Jared Mitchell are going to need more time in AAA.

It could be that the White Sox wind up looking to free agency to replace Rios. A potential corollary to selling high on Rios might be buy low on someone like Shane Victorino, who has been good for several years but is coming off of a poor 2012. Victorino may be willing to sign a 1-year deal in order to try to rebuild his value heading into the next offseason. Once again: buying low might mean you get an asset cheaply, and Victorino seems to fit the personality profile that the White Sox love. Generally speaking Victorino gets on base fairly well, and he steals bases efficiently and frequently.

There are a lot of variables that would impact a decision like this for the team. Where does each of those free agent outfielders wind up and for how much? Does Rick Hahn decide he wants to try to push his chips in to try to compete again for next year or does he want to rebuild? While I don’t think the Tigers were that much better than the White Sox this year – if at all – they’re going to be adding Victor Martinez back into the mix next year. Perhaps a middle ground is the wisest course – hanging on to Rios over the offseason, seeing what kind of start you get off to, and if the White Sox fall way behind in the division they can start selling off whatever isn’t tied down, including Rios.

Given how many unknowns there are currently, I don’t know for sure if trading Rios is the best option – but the White Sox should explore it, because it might be. It may be that you’re going to match Rios’ 2013 and 2014 production for less money and with whatever minor league talent they can acquire in exchange for Rios himself.