ChiSox, Jays both benefit from Rios waiver claim

Today, we found out that the White Sox were indeed the claiming team on Alex Rios. The White Sox received the 28-year old off waivers — not even giving up anyone.

The waiver claim of Alex Rios generated quite a bit of furor in the blogosphere, much to the bewilderment of Dan Novick.

In the article, Novick passes judgment on the claim, saying that the Jays should be looking to build around Rios for the duration of the deal, not trying to dump him:

He’s been worth just one win above replacement so far, which prorates to about 1.5 wins over a full season, compared to 5.5 wins in 2008, 4.6 in 2007, and 3.3 wins in 2006. The most notable difference this year for most baseball fans has been his offense. He’s been slightly below average this year, with -1.7 batting runs (park corrected version). The last three years he’s been between 12 and 25 runs above average.

Rios, who is right in the middle of his prime, is projected to be worth 31.5 runs above replacement. A three-win player like Rios on the free agent market would command somewhere between $12-$15 million per year in the short-term. Did I mention that Rios is making an average of $11.7 million over the next 5 years, and the Blue Jays hold a 2015 option for $13.5 million? In other words, Alex Rios is a bargain.

I’m going to go ahead and disagree here. I don’t think Rios is anywhere near a bargain, and I think Rios wouldn’t even sniff $12-$15 million in free agency, never mind net an average $11.7 million that he is making under his current contract. It’s not to say that he’s not valuable or he can’t be worth that money for the remainder of his deal, but he hasn’t been worth it to date.

Barring a late surge, this season will mark the fourth straight decrease in OPS for Rios. He checked in at a career-high .865 in 2006 and it is down to .744 this year. What Rios seems to have lost the ability to do is recognize pitches, as his walk percentage was at 7.2 percent in 2006 and 7.9 percent in 2007. He backslid to 6.5 percent last year, and is at 6.6 percent this year. With that backsliding in 2008, he’s found the going a bit tough this year as he hasn’t been able to sustain his .291 batting average from 2008, dipping to .264.

With a career worst 18.4 line drive percentage, he is doing nothing but going backwards. The Blue Jays, looking financially hamstrung by Alex Rios and Vernon Wells, simply needed to move salary, and with a hitter trending backwards, Rios was the clear move. The Jays benefit by getting out of the contract that was not befitting a player of Rios’ stature. They let him go via waivers — they didn’t even care if they got anything in return. That shows you how motivated they were to move salary.

But that’s not to say Rios is worthless. Nay, he actually lands in Chicago with a ton of promise on his hands. He is a gifted defender, and the White Sox could opt to make him their long-term centerfielder, as he shouldn’t have too much difficulty in transitioning to center. This would only add to his value.

Secondly, his .318 xBABIP suggests that he’s been vastly unlucky on the year, and he’s heading to a park that is conducive to offense. In centerfield (if the White Sox do indeed move him, which is unclear), his current offense suddenly becomes acceptable. If he starts hitting balls out of the park thanks to regression to the mean and being at the Cell, he suddenly becomes an All-Star centerfielder. All ifs, of course — but ifs the White Sox certainly felt justified to take a flyer on Rios.

Financially, the claim made sense for Chicago. The White Sox were pacing to shed more than half their payroll before the Jake Peavy trade. That doesn’t hold anymore with Peavy and now Alex Rios in the fold, but it just goes to show how much money the White Sox were able to spend.

If Rios keeps on giving the White Sox what he had given the Jays in recent years, both teams benefit. The White Sox get a speedster capable of playing center field and with an offensive history of at least some pop. The Jays needed to cut salary, and Rios was one of their fattest contracts — handed out to a player that simply wasn’t living up to expectations, and hadn’t for two years.

If Rios returns to his 2006-7 ways, it still isn’t a mistake in Toronto. The team is in flux and getting older. The Jays look headed for a complete rebuilding project, and there is a reason why the Jays let Rios go without getting anything. Keeping Rios would have harmed them, and they were in a tough position with the claim: they could have pulled him back and looked to trade him in the offseason, but the White Sox knew they were one of the few (if not the only) team that could take on Rios’ salary now and in the future.

It may seem odd that the deal is being considered a win/win here, and even still a win/win should Rios return to his previous ways.

It just goes to show you the special situation each team found themselves in.

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Comments

  1. Dave said...

    Why is this considered the 4th straight decrease in OPS?

    2005 – .703
    2006 – .865
    2007 – .852
    2008 – .798
    2009 – .744

    It looks like 3 straight to me.  Also, since the first decrease was from .865 to .852, it really only looks like a bad season and a half or so.

  2. Nick said...

    Evan – There is no evidence that trends have any predictive value.  You CAN’T just look at this years stats and use those to value a player.  A player’s performance can be subject to random variation, and it’s specious to say that this year’s performance properly gauges his ability. 

    A proper projection properly weights previous years, and applies regression to the mean and an age adjustment of some sort.  ZIPS projects a .352 wOBA (.806 OPS) going forward, which is right about what he did in 08, and is in the middle of his good and his bad years.

    That projection manifests itself in about 12 batting runs above average.  When you combine that with average defense in center, that makes him a 3.5 WAR player going forward, which according to this chart…

    http://www.tangotiger.net/salary2008.html

    …means his current contract slightly underpays him.

    I’m not saying that he is neccesarily a good fit for the Blue Jays, but, in light of not trading Halladay, they appear to be at least attempting to make a run for next year.  Trading Rios certainly doesn’t help that.

  3. Evan Brunell said...

    Nick,

    I wasn’t looking at just this year’s stats. I will say, however, that a “proper projection” is just as much a shot in the dark.

    As for his contract slightly underpaying him, I don’t buy that. First off, I think Fangraph’s $ model is flawed. Second off, Buster Olney said that Rios would be lucky to get 2/20 and 3/30 in this market, and I’m right there with him.

    The economy and Rios’ recent body of work simply does not dictate this contract.

  4. Nick said...

    Evan,

    For a player with an established track record such as Rios, projections are usually right on the money.

    And since when do we listen to Buster Olney about anything analytical smile  I didn’t link to FanGraphs model, but to Tom Tango’s (of which FanGraphs’ is an implementation of).  Could you tell me exactly what is wrong about that model? 

    Besides, what you think Rios would get is besides the point.  The point is that if the White Sox wanted to get a player of Rios’ caliber, they would have to pay more than his current salary (unless he was someone who was traditionally undervalued, like a good fielding shortstop). 

    Essentially, this wasn’t a bad deal for the Jays, as they weren’t likely going to be in contention over the next 2-3 years at least.  Still, they should have been able to get more for a player like Rios.  They are no better off than they were before.   

    However, it was an excellent move for the White Sox, as a win to them is more valuable than to other clubs, given their placement on the playoff curve.  I would say this was a great move for the White Sox, and “meh” move for the Jays.  I would certainly not call it a win-win.

  5. Evan Brunell said...

    Haha. If you don’t want to listen to Olney, a GM said that Rios is a good gamble at $30-35 mil, but not $60… and then Joe Poz goes and ranks Rios the seventh worst contract in the majors.

    Where there’s smoke, I have to think there’s fire.

  6. Nick said...

    Well, Poz is wrong, sorry.  I’m not sure how he comes to that conclusion. 

    Anyways, that misses the point.  Regardless of what Rios would actually fetch, to get a player of his caliber, you would have to pay more than Rios’ contract.  It’s a simple as that.  If the White Sox wanted to buy a 3.5 WAR player in free agency, they would have to pay more than Rios’ contract (assuming that there are any 3.5 WAR players available). 

    Can you name another player as good as Rios (about 3.5 WAR), who you could acquire for what he is worth (whether it’s cash or prospects) at this point in the season?  How about next year in free agency?

  7. Evan Brunell said...

    In free agency, Bay could and will fetch more than Rios, despite Rios out WARing him. (At least, last I checked, Rios was out-WARing him.) Doesn’t that say something?

    I think WAR is a solid stat, but I think you have to look at multiple values. And I’m not saying you are, but most statistically-inclined people are just looking at this through the statistical lens. Rios has been a liability with the bat so far, and yeah, ZiPS may project him to be much better the rest of the way, but he might not be.

  8. Nick said...

    If Bay would get more in free agency than Rios, that just means Rios is being undervalued, not that he is actually worth less. 

    And he is NOT a liability with the bat.  He’s been exactly league average this year, with a BABIP .40 points lower than his career average.  I would bet you 100 dollars he hit’s a lot closer to his ZIPS projection than his current numbers.  He also plays great defense.

  9. DR said...

    This is just as dumb as if they had waived Aaron Hill last season.  They could of done it right after his injury, just to be classy.

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