The non-waiver trade deadline was last week, but when it comes to high-priced assets, August is just as good a time to complete a trade as any. The Rangers were willing to pay the price tag on Alex Rios, and nobody with a worse record in the American League felt the same. The reports are that the player to be named later (a quirk of waiver trading) is Leury Garcia, and that’s a price that these Rangers can afford to pay in order to improve their odds of postseason play.
After Nelson Cruz accepted his suspension, the Rangers outfield was suddenly very left-handed. Leonys Martin, David Murphy and now Craig Gentry have been getting most of the playing time — only Gentry is a righty, and all have been platooned so far in their careers.
Enter Alex Rios. The right-handed outfielder has shown scratch offense for his career, but he’s been above average the last two years overall. Despite his offense being 4% better than league average against lefties and just below league average against righties, he probably won’t be platooned. After all, only once in his career has David Murphy managed to be league average against lefties — Rios has spent as many years above average as below against righties.
No, what this trade allows the team to do is platoon in left, and even in center, if they choose. With Craig Gentry and Jeff Baker, they have two right-handed bats on the bench that can play center and left if they choose to continue platooning Murphy and Martin. Since Jurickson Profar is needed on the infield — and the team has been public about ending his outfield work — there was no way this team could align their roster in order to platoon all three outfield positions.
All the Rangers had to do was take on the remaining $17+ million on Rios’ contract — $12.5 million for next year, a $1 million buyout, and the remaining salary for this season — and agree to send a toolsy middle infielder to Chicago. With Profar, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler under team control until 2015, they could afford to send a defensive middle infielder like Garcia packing. Marc Hulet rated Garcia the organization’s 15th-best prospect going into the season, admitting that the player’s prospects might have been higher if the 22-year-old hadn’t been rushed through the minors.
Chicago, now with more room in the wallet, can look past the recent jump in strikeout rates and dream on the possibility of a starting shortstop to take over for Alexei Ramirez if they don’t pick up his 2016 option. Or perhaps he helps elsewhere if the team sees him as an improvement over Conor Gillaspie, Gordon Beckham, or even Alejandro De Aza in center.
Is Rios going to be worth $17 million over the next year-plus? That’s an open question, given the oscillation he’s undergone during his career. In his ‘good’ seasons, Rios combines good numbers at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths to be a three-to-five win player that would easily return a positive return on that sort of investment. This year looks to be one of those years.
But in his bad years, Rios runs into outs on the basepaths, loses it at the plate, and can even be worse than scratch with the glove. Of course, those are the years that his batted ball luck also takes a turn for the worse. Only once (2005) has he had a BABIP over .300 and been worth fewer than two wins overall. Still, Rios was recently benched for not running out a grounder, and Ozzie Guillen once said of him that he “don’t run the bases.”
A twice-claimed contract like this may be rare, and it points to some flaws that are perhaps hidden in the numbers. But now that the Rangers are only on the hook for a year and two months, the stakes are lower. His acquisition improves the Ranger roster, not only in construction, but in production. And it did not come with a prohibitive price — because the price in dollars was high enough to scare off the other suitors. Welcome to August trading.
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