August 11, 2009
Jays opt for flexibilityLet Rios walk away to White Sox
By KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA
NEW YORK -- Alex Rios is gone, given away for nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. The Blue Jays no longer have that six-year $70-million millstone around their corporate neck.
But it's not a salary dump. No, sirree.
"Alex gets to go to Chicago and Chicago assumes his contract," said Blue Jay general manager J.P. Ricciardi at a hastily-called news conference just before game-time here last night.
"This is not a financial dump. That's not the message we're trying to send here. This enables us to have more financial flexibility. What's happened since we did the contract (signed in April of 2008) is that the game has changed in so many ways economically in the last year.
"This allows us to get out from under a contract and gives us more resources to do more for our club going forward."
This remarkable turn of events began when Rios was claimed off the waiver wire by the White Sox on Friday. It's routine business for major-league teams to run many of their players through waivers right after the non-waiver trade deadline on Aug. 1. Most players, especially the ones with big salaries, breeze through the process without a claim.
More often than not, if a player is claimed, the waivers are rescinded by the club. Unless, of course, they think getting rid of the financial liability is more attractive than the prospect of future production.
The Jays elected to sign Rios to a seven-year, $69.835-million US contract after his fourth full season, pre-empting any thought of him becoming a free agent after this season. They paid him high-end money for future production that did not materialize.
In his last 1,071 at-bats, since signing the deal, Rios has hit just 29 home runs and driven in 141 runs. Meanwhile, the economics of the game have shifted and the price of outfield help has fallen.
Rios, endowed with magnificent physical skills, has often teased his employers into thinking that superstardom is just around the corner. That potential is obviously still a powerful lure for the White Sox and GM Kenny Williams.
Ricciardi acknowledged that Rios could blossom in Chicago. But, by saving the money, they may get to keep a couple of their current players (Marco Scutaro and Rod Barajas, perhaps?).
"In a lot of ways, cash is king going forward, especially in the environment we're in and we'll have some more money to address some needs we're going to have in our lineup."
Rios arrived at Yankee Stadium last night expecting to play right field against the Yankees. He was pencilled into the lineup but all that changed around 6 p.m. when the arrangement with the White Sox was finalized.
"I heard the rumours, but I thought I was going to stay here. But stuff happens and I just have to move on," said Rios as he left the clubhouse just after the start of the game.
"It's a little emotional to say goodbye to your friends, to the people you came up with. Now I'm with another team and I just have to keep doing what I was doing here.
"You have to be mentally prepared for anything in this game."
With nearly 50 games remaining, Rios still has a chance to hit 20 or more home runs and drive in 80-85 runs. Those are not superstar numbers but he could become a valuable man for Chicago, still locked in the hunt for a playoff spot in the AL Central, despite a 57-55 record.
Therein lies the rub for Toronto baseball fans. Sure, Rios has been a frustrating player. Many folks are probably saying 'Good riddance' today. But if he finally fulfils his promise in Chicago, this will once again be laid at Ricciardi's doorstep.
The Jays best use this new-found money wisely.