Why is the media and the blogosphere covering this story like he’s the second coming of Lou Gehrig? With the amount of press it’s getting one can only conclude that (A) Alex Rios is the second coming of Lou Gehrig, or (B) Alex Rios is the first player ever to be claimed on waivers and this is actual news. Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors has had a Halladay-esque thread on the subject today, with another one up tonight by Mike Axisa, of River Ave. Blues fame, for reader discussion.
People won’t stop writing about Alex Rios (I had to be fair there and include friend-of-THT Jason from IIATMS). I sincerely hope he’s either traded or revoked by the Blue Jays today, just so we can stop reading about it. The White Sox, run by GM Kenny Williams, are rumored to have claimed Rios. Williams has long drawn the ire of of sabermetricians for his sometimes-curious moves, but I have to agree with him here:
“If these things get out on a daily basis, boy, it’s going to be a heck of an August around here in terms of how many players you claim and how many you don’t claim. It will make your head spin if you follow each report.”
“A lot of players getting claimed every day. Why is this a big deal?”
My point exactly.
But what if he is traded?
While I’m talking about Rios here, I might as well consider the possibility that he will be playing for another team in a few days. What might that new team be getting, in Rios? He’s not having the same kind of year he had the last two seasons, but he’s still having a pretty good year and is still a pretty good player going forward.
This season, he’s hitting .262/.316/.423 in 475 plate appearances, which includes 14 home runs. With an average UZR in the field, his numbers are definitely down from where they were. 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.
I don’t think he’s “lost it” just yet. ZiPS projects him to be worth 3.7 runs above average the rest of the season in 198 at bats. Let’s call that his “true talent level.” Prorated to a full season of about 640 at bats (what Rios usually gets), that’s about 12 runs above average at bat. Keep that number in mind.
Since starting in 2004, Rios has been worth a total of 68 runs above average in the field, according to UZR. Despite missed playing time due to injuries and such, that’s worth an average of 13.6 runs per year. In true talent, he’s probably around 5-10 runs above average. Let’s be conservative here and say he’s a +5 run fielder going forward. He plays primarily right field, so you have to dock him 7.5 runs in positional adjustments over a full season. Then to scale his value versus replacement level instead of average, you add in 22 runs over a full season as well.
Add all of that up and 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. The Blue Jays shouldn’t be looking to dump his salary on the waiver wire. They should be looking to build around this guy for the duration of his valuable contract.