My how just a few months change things drastically. Remember this past winter, when Rios was shopped as the centerpiece for a deal to get Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum? Now, he's worth nothing, literally nothing, in return.
So what exactly are the Blue Jays doing, letting a 28-year-old former all-star go?
The short answer is saving money. Toronto needs to cut back payroll, partly because ownership is pressuring them to, and perhaps also partly to line themselves up to make a legitimate run at keeping Roy Halladay in town. Rios was signed through 2014 with an average salary of north of $10 million for the remaining years of the contract. Since it looks like the Blue Jays may have simply let Rios go, the White Sox have to take on the entire contract.
While Rios the last couple years has easily played at a level to justify the salary, that is not the case this year. His game across the board is worse. He has gone from an elite to defender to just a mediocre one. He also seems to be trying to hit more home runs, but that has ultimately hurt his offensive production.
It's another bold move by White Sox GM Ken Williams, who continues to make big splashes with a team a shade above .500. Chicago can afford to take this risk though. Jim Thome's big salary is up at the end of the year, and they could also buy out the rest of Jermaine Dye's deal.
There is no obvious explanation for Rios's major drop in production, outside of perhaps trying to muscle up a little too much at the plate. At his age it is reasonable to think he will bounce back. I would expect him to as well, particularly defensively. The dramatic drop-off wreaks of an off-year.
It's got to be fun to be a White Sox fan right now. The President of the United States of America is rooting for your team. You just acquired Jake Peavy in one of the boldest deadline deals in recent memory. Gordon Beckham, your first round pick from only a year ago, is a rookie sensation at third base. Now, your team has gone out and plucked a former all-star outfielder from the Blue Jays for nothing. Talk about a team doing everything it can to win.
It can't be that fun to be a Blue Jays fan right now. The national media showed up to follow Halladay's every step, assuming he would be traded. Now, Alex Rios goes away for nothing, mostly because too much money for too many years was handed out to too many players. Something had to give.
Long-term, big-money contracts are very scary things. They often turn out bad. Texas is only now digging out from the A-Rod debacle (though Chan Ho Park's monster deal should not be overlooked). The Yankees had a handful of awful long-term deals that resulted in a $200 million team that wasn't ever really in the playoff hunt last year. Now, Toronto had to give up a pretty good player for nothing.
Of course, now the White Sox have a couple big long-term contracts with Jake Peavy and Alex Rios. It's a high-risk, high-reward strategy. I probably wouldn't have made either transaction, but that's what makes Ken Williams one of the gutsiest GMs in the business.