Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SPORTS: Jury's Out on Rios Move

I might be in a minority, but I'm sure you can't be sure the waiving of Alex Rios isn't going to come back and bite the Toronto Blue Jays on the butt. Same goes for Kenny Williams latest trip out onto a limb, where few dare go.

I've wavered back and forth on the merits of just letting Rios' contract evaporate off the books of the club, as if he never existed. There are times when I can see the merits of freeing up the eight figures a year the Jays were going to hand the frequently unfocused right-fielder. Certainly, he wasn't turning in an all-star performance this year ... although he wasn't being paid like one. Yet. On the other hand, his play HAD picked up over the last month and it isn't too late for Rios to end the year hitting .290 and having banged out 25 home runs.

The good side of the waiver deal for the Jays is that they will have close to 10 million American pesos to spread around, come the off-season. Some have pointed out that that sum this year could have meant Bobby Abreu, Orlando Hudson and a couple of scrubs for the bench, with enough change for a dinner at McDonald's. Not one baseball man was smart enough to actually do that kind of signing, but the two teams in L.A. at least get some credit for spotting free agent value. Even if the money is used to keep certain free agents-to-be in Toronto (Scutaro and Barajas come to mind), it's good money to have. Also, the Jays might very well suspect that a contented Rios is a terrifying combination of talent and a lack of motivation to maximize that talent. We might very well have already seen the best of Rios. Certainly, a man who believes in personal responsibility, like Clarence Gaston, might not have the mind-set to beat a performance out of Rios. And Gaston's going to be here for awhile.

Not surprisingly, there's a consensus out there by baseball touts that trading Rios for a bag of baseballs was an outstanding move by the Toronto Blue Jays, even if it was the truth-challenged GM doing the deed. In fact, given the savings and acquisition of some prime pitching prospects in the Scott Rolen deal, you might even say J.P. Ricciardi is on a roll. And if this late-season willingness to take advantage of the largesse of other G.M.'s (Walt Jocketty and then Williams) lets him keep his job, then this will be very bad news for Toronto fans. (It also immediately hurts my Minnesota Twins' chances at winning the Central Division, which is bad news no matter what).

Bad news can also arrive in other ways. First, let's face it. Ozzie Guillen might just pull Rios' short hairs out through his esophagus if he doesn't put in enough effort in Chicago. Lacking only Concentration amongst the Three C's (Capability and Confidence), under Guillen, Rios could turn into the all-star centre-fielder the Pale Hose have been looking for. He'll shunt Scott Posednik to the sideline and play between Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye when the ChiSox have everybody healthy. And I think he might bat lead-off, which I had long bruited he should do to salvage this season in Toronto. He doesn't actually have to perform a heck of a lot better to earn eight figures.

Plus, the Blue Jays are now faced with the lure of pocketing the Rios Savings rather than trying to sign value for the money. Or they can let Ricciardi loose to spend the money. If his track record is any indication, that money will either go to fading stars who won't earn the money, or average major leaguers who will be a step down, a BIG step down, from Rios.

The consensus will be that this is a good deal for Toronto. Maybe. Maybe not. I think the jury's going to be out until next year. Maybe it's my distate for Ricciardi, but I've got the feeling this is going to look better for the White Sox than the Blue Jays down the road.

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