Why should I care about Alex Rios?

A Google search for “Alex Rios waivers” results in over 65,000 hits overall. Switch over to Google News and you get 680.

Why?

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.”
[snip]
“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.

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Comments

  1. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    Because there’s $70 million remaining on his contract.  Because all we have heard is “my team can’t take on additional contracts”.  Because the hottest buzzwords are “payroll certainty” and “financial flexability”.

    It really has little to do with Rios, per se.  He’s a fine ballplayer but not worth his contract.  In this climate, his contract is a bit pricey.

    The Jays, as an organization, would probably be sad to see him go, but thrilled to be out from under those long term obligations.

  2. Nick Steiner said...

    Rios is actually very much worth his contract, as he is a 3-4 WAR player most years, and his contract pays him like a 3-4 WAR player:

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

    One can only conclude that A) The Jays are putting too much stock in 1 season, in which Rios’ BABIP is .40 points lower than his career mark, or B) They don’t properly value defense, from which Rios derives much of his value. 

    I assume that most of the articles about him are either from other teams who are excited to get a good, and not overpaid player; or from pissed of Jays fans who don’t want to see a good player traded for a bag of balls.

  3. J. McCann said...

    He is arguably worth his contract NOW, to a team with a good revenue stream.  Since it is all downhill from here, for the last few years of that deal, he will cost way too much to a cheap team.

  4. Dan Novick said...

    Jason—

    But he is worth his contract. He’s (conservatively) a 3-win player going forward, as I showed. The dollars per win in 06-07 was $4.0, in 07-08 it was $4.4, this year it was still in the range of what it was in 07-08. The $12M I said in the article as the lower bound was using the dollars per win figure from two years ago. Even with the current economy, players have been paid more per win this year than they were in the 06-07 off-season. I don’t see any legitimate reason to believe he’s not worth his contract.

  5. Brent McNaught said...

    The Alex Rios story is interesting because in the spectrum of sports trades and transactions,of which many of us spend more than a reasonable amount of time tracking, it involved the following uncommon elements all in one package:

    1) A very good young player , in
    his prime, secured in a multi-year deal that was not considered a “bad contract”.

    2) A name that had previously not been offered up much less beaten to death by rumorists. (we were suprised by the Peavy deal but tired of hearing of him)

    3) A significant post waiver deadline deal involving an impact player and an actual mystery team. Not in the vein of the typical ” Holliday is on the block and we think he’s going to Detroit, St.Louis, San Francisco, Boston or New York”. One team claimed him and we don’t know who it is.

    4) Again, it came out of nowhere which is fresh.

  6. James Robert said...

    It’s a story because of Roy Halladay. If the Jays can jettison the Rios contract, it frees up much needed cash to offer an extension to Halladay.

  7. Tim Dierkes said...

    I don’t get why this wouldn’t be a story, especially for MLB Trade Rumors. It’s not like there are bigger August stories that we are ignoring.

  8. Justin said...

    It’s not a question of whether or not Rios is a good player or worth his contract based on the metrics or anything like that.  WAR and sabermetrics cannot account for a reeling economy and weak canadian dollar.  When players like Bobby Abreu and Orlando Hudson are both signed for less than Rios’ salary, it becomes a compelling story to follow. When competative, solvent sports franchises are acting like they are a half season from bankruptcy, the movement of a 66 million dollar contract when most people cant take on 600k is going to be newsworthy.

  9. jw said...

    James, if Halladay leaves it’s because he wants to play in the postseason.  If he stays it’s because he believes the Jays can do that.  If the Jays jettison Rios (which they won’t, as the OP said he’s signed to a good contract which the Toronto media just doesn’t understand) then they are saying that they are not committed to putting a winning team around Halladay.  Why would Doc stay if they ditch Rios?

  10. Brent McNaught said...

    I suppose it comes down to what we believe is out there for teams in free agency after the season. I don’t believe we’ll see a Rios caliber player available to the tune of 2 years/ $7 mllion per. Last year was a situation of some very unique circumstances of surplus stock and extreme market uncertainty that can not be repeated.
    So it would seem that Rios’ contract was fair market value at the time it was signed and that we should see at least a partial return to those values some time over the course of his contract. If that is the case then the Jays should either keep him as a core asset of some value or pull him off the waive wire and deal him in the off season when teams are geared up to spend some money and they can get some prospects in return.
    Tim, keep doing what you’re doing. You are officially my “dealer”.

  11. Brent McNaught said...

    Justin,

    The Canadian dollar was trading at 92 cents last week and the Bank of Canada has declared the worst of the recession over up here.
    It’s really a question of the player’s value, not only to the controlling team, but to the rest of the league who can trade for him as well. I’m starting to believe that some team out there will be willing to deal prospects for him. One team has already indicated through the waiver claim that they are willing to take on the entire contract.

  12. The Real Neal said...

    I had to double check something, but yep, my computer clock says August 9th, 2009.

    All of this ‘Value’ analysis is done on a pre-financial crash analysis.  The market was adjusting very rapidly last year (Milton Bradley $30 for thee years in December, Bobby Abreu 1 year $5 million of Feb 12th).

    “Even with the current economy, players have been paid more per win this year than they were in the 06-07 off-season. I don’t see any legitimate reason to believe he’s not worth his contract.”

    Totally invalid statement.  If every player had just signed a free agent contract or an extension in February of this year, that statement would have some point.  Far and away the vast majority of contracts were guaranteed or agreed or set during pre-crash conditions. No one in this off-season is going to get a FA contract that resembles the rest of Rios’s contract for a player of his level.

  13. The Real Neal said...

    “One team has already indicated through the waiver claim that they are willing to take on the entire contract. “

    No, one team with a particularly foolish GM thinks he has blocked Rios from going to a contender with a better record, not realizing that the Jays are likely to say “enjoy”.  Right now the Jays are just bluffing trying to get some prospects out of that GM for free, because they’re not retracting that waiver.

  14. Richard said...

    A better question is why do we care that you don’t care?  I, for one, don’t.

    You’re contributing to the exact situation you claim to deplore, and we’re supposed to buy in?  If you don’t like it, write about something else and stop googling stories you pretend to be sick of…

  15. Dan Novick said...

    Tim—

    I don’t have a problem with you guys covering it, but the sheer volume of pixels spent on Alex Riod around the web baffled me.

    Richard—

    I was waiting for someone to make that comment. I don’t care about Alex Rios, but I do care about the story, as evidenced by this post. Nobody else had pointed out the ridiculousness of the amount of time being spent on Rios, so I felt I might as well do so. This post isn’t like the other Rios posts out there, so I don’t see how I’m contributing to the hysteria.

  16. stoeten said...

    “A three-win player like Rios on the free agent market would command somewhere between $12-$15 million per year in the short-term,” the author writes, and then points out that, at an average of $11.7M over the life of the contract, Rios is a “bargain”.

    Well, I’m sorry that you haven’t noticed, but Toronto isn’t in a position where it can afford to fill it’s roster with guys being paid market value—especially with so much of their limited payroll tied up in a player, Vernon Wells, being so extremely overpaid. That this is a story has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Rios isn’t worth his contract as a player—of course he is, or a team wouldn’t have claimed him—it’s that he’s probably not worth his contract in Toronto, where they have payroll issues, a younger, cheaper player in Travis Snider they need to find room for, and other holes that need to be filled if they want to try to compete in the short term.

    It’s hardly unthinkable that the Jays might cut bait on Rios, put Snider in RF and reallocate that money to a player who better contributes to the offence—which is the area that has plagued the team for the last several years.

  17. David said...

    You can not evaluate Rios’ contract as a FA contract.  He signed it with 2 years of arbitration remaining.  The team thereby assumed the risk of poor performance from Rios for those two years.  In exchange, a player normally takes less money.  Instead, the Jays paid him market value of a FA.  They essentially got zero value out of their 2 years of control remaining. 

    Additionally, a hitter typically peaks at 28-29 and so far defensive value seems to have a linear degregration with age.  Meaning right now, Rios should be at his peak value for the club, but his cost will continue to rise over time.  Not a good combination for a team with somewhat limited payroll that obviously can not outspend its direct competition. 

    During each year in the deal the payments to Rios will outweigh the his contributions on the field.

  18. Str1fe5 said...

    is that 4.5 million per win figure based on money spent in 2008 and wins accrued in 2008, or is it based off wins accrued in 2008 and money spent prior to 2009? If it’s the former, we can’t know anything about the current economy and how much of a hit FA prices will take, and if it’s the latter, a huge, huge chunk of all of those dollars were spent by the Yankees. I’m willing to bet FA prices take a pretty hefty drop this current off season.

  19. Ryan JL said...

    “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. “

    Thank you! I have been saying this for weeks in response to people who lump his contract in with Wells’s.  Rios is also a great baserunner and has a very good arm.  He will easily be worth his contract, IMO.

  20. Dan Novick said...

    David—
    Whatever team he’s traded do doesn’t care what year he broke into the league. He has a contract that pays him that amount, regardless of when he signed it. It’s looked at by other teams as a good contract, and I think the Blue Jays should see it in the same way.

    Str1fe5—
    The $4.5 million is based on the off-season prior to this year (before anything having to do with the financial crisis). Knowing nothing about the crisis, we’d expect that number to be around 4.8 or 4.9 for this past off-season, but they didn’t get that high. It seems people are overestimating the effect the crisis had on free agent salaries. People like to point to Abreu, but what about the Braves bidding $80 million for Burnett? Sure, the dollars per win number might have been less than previously expected, but it didn’t go into a free-fall.

  21. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    Hey, I agree, Rios is still a fine player.  But for a team with major financial issues and concerns, shedding his deal for more team-friendly (cheaper, shorter) deals is paramount.

    Perhaps the Rays gained enough wiggle room after dealing Rolen, but maybe that’s not even enough.

  22. David said...

    Even if you are just looking at the contract from the prospective of a team trading for Rios, it is not a good deal.  Positional players generally do not get better after the age of 30.  With 5 years remaining, his production should be expected to decline for each of the remaining years on the contract.  Therefore, for his contract to maintain fair market value the cost of a marginal win needs to increase proportionately to the decline in production. 

    Considering the happenings of this past offseason, the market seems unliklely to be receptive to an increase in cost of a marginal win.  Plus, outside of the Yankees enormous spending spree, there were very few long term contracts handed out.

    Its not a horrid contract, but there is alot of risk given its length and very little upside.

  23. Shawn said...

    Because there is a storyline here.  The Blue Jays have been complaining about the contracts of Rios and Vernon Wells almost since they signed them.  Now, with a waiver claim, they can be rid of Rios’ contract in a stroke of a pen.  Will they put up or shut up?  Stay tuned.

  24. Dan Novick said...

    Rios is 28 years old, and turns 29 in February and he’s under contract through his age-33 season. I can’t really argue with you because the points you make aren’t based in fact, just opinion. Don’t take that as a criticism, it’s just the nature of this type of argument. Nobody knows if he’s going to be worth his contract. You think he won’t, I think he will—it’s as simple as that. We’ll find out in a few years.

  25. Chuck said...

    No, it’s not the Blue Jays that have been complaining about the Rios’ and Wells’ contracts, but the fans and the media.

    Why is this a story? Because despite being told ever blessed year that ever blessed player goes on waivers every blessed August, the fans and the media act like they don’t know this or understand why it is happening. Hence, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, a whole lot o’ nothing becomes a story. Or a non-story, as is the case.

  26. mravery said...

    Alex Rios would not be able to get a 5-year deal of this magnitude on the open market. Just wouldn’t happen. He’s worth the deal right now, but (a) there’s not really any upside, as he is very unlikely to be better going forward and (b) there’s substantial downside risk: names like Dan Ford and Tito Francona and Mel Hall were on his “most comparable through age” list before this down year. I could see him getting a 3-year deal for $12M per in the current economic climate, but 5? Na.

  27. Chuck R said...

    I’ve been following in the Rios discussions all along, and the comments after this article have been included some of the more insightful points that I have seen.

    But if the premise of Dan’s article was that we shouldn’t be interested in Rios being claimed off waivers and that there is nothing to see here – move along – I couldn’t disagree more.  There is almost a perfect storm of waiver intrigue here – there are good arguments for the Blue Jays letting him go for nothing or hanging onto him.  There is fodder for debate on baseball issues and the utility of a player that many had seen great potential in but who hasn’t lived up to high expectations, but whose contract has far reaching implications for any team he is on.  And the economic issues are compelling as well – the Blue Jays were supposed to be looking at cutting salary and here is a golden opportunity in their lap, not to mention the intersection of the personalities of Ricciardi and (apparently) Kenny Williams.

    In short, I find the Rios waiver claim to be a fascinating story worthy of discussion no matter how it ends up in the next 24 hours.

  28. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    “You think he won’t, I think he will—it’s as simple as that. We’ll find out in a few years.”

    We’ll settle it over a brewed beverage, perhaps?  We’ll charge it to Shyster’s account, too.

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