The ups and downs of the White Sox and their now long-tenured outfielder Alex Rios, 32, have been well documented. The Sox originally acquired Rios in August of 2009 as a waiver claim from the Blue Jays, not even two years after Toronto signed him to a seven-year, $69.835MM extension that included a club option for 2015 at $13.5MM.
While Rios was just 28 at the time and had already put up three stellar seasons with the Jays, his abysmal 2009 season already had many labeling the contract as one of the worst in baseball. In the midst of a playoff race, though, Chicago decided to roll the dice. At the time, then-White Sox GM Kenny Williams acknowledged that the team went "out on a limb a little bit" by nabbing Rios, but said the team "had targeted him as the guy who would not only help us here in our quest for a division but in future seasons as well." Rios was even worse in Chicago than in Toronto that year, however, and the team ended with a losing record.
After a more promising 2010, Rios imploded in 2011, slashing just .227/.265/.348 in 570 painful plate appearances. He also saw his counting statistics plummet, as he logged just 13 home runs (after 21 in 2010) and 11 stolen bases (against 34 in 2010). Just when Rios seemed a complete bust, though, he rebounded in 2012 with a .304/.334/.516 line to go with 25 long balls and 23 swipes. He has continued that pace this season, slashing .281/.348/.516 over his first 141 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, for the White Sox, a relatively promising 2012 campaign has not carried over to the current season. The club sits in last place in the AL Central, six games back of the Tigers. And there is not much reason for optimism, as the Sox project as one of the worst teams in the American League over the rest of the year. Should the team look to move salary and replenish its lowly farm system (ESPN Insider link), Rios could be an interesting trade chip.
At this point, Rios's contract looks very appealing for a player with his current level of performance. He was worth 4.1 wins above replacement last year according to Fangraphs, and as noted has continued to hit. Meanwhile, he is owed just $12.5MM for 2014. (The deal does include an escalator that would bump that figure to $13MM if he is traded before the start of the 2014 season.) And Rios's 2015 option offers a nice risk-reward proposition: it could be cheap if he keeps performing, but would protect an acquiring team's downside because it comes with a minimal $1MM buyout. While the 2011 disaster will no doubt weigh heavily on the mind of a team looking at Rios, it is worth noting that he posted a .237 BABIP that year that was dramatically worse than his career .308 mark.
Rios could appeal to a relatively wide range of teams, potentially increasing his trade value, although the market could be impacted by his six-team no-trade clause. Indeed, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News exhorted the Mets to take a hard look at Rios in spite of the fact that the team is looking unlikely to make a postseason run. While his play has certainly seen its ups and downs, Rios has demonstrated this year that he is still physically capable of delivering a strong blend of power and speed. And with a contract that offers multi-year control without a major commitment, along with the flexibility and upside of the 2015 option, Rios could appeal to teams that are seeking both future and present value at the trade deadline.