The Royals looked to add some pop in their lineup to replace Nori Aoki in right field, and after striking out on free agents Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera, they turned to the enigmatic Alex Rios, signing him to a one-year $11 million contract. Rios may have hit just four home runs last year, but the Royals are counting on last season being an aberration. Rios has had a wildly up-and-down career, putting up 4-5 fWAR seasons, interspersed with seasons where he was well below replacement level. He has been chided in the past for a lack of hustle, but the Royals will be counting on him being motivated on a one-year deal. At age 34, his upside is much more limited now, but he may still have the tools needed to at least be a useful player.
An Alex Rios home run, a rare sight in 2014.
Rios was having a pretty decent season last season until mid-June when his season took a swan dive. He hit just .224/.249/.303 over his last 66 games. Some of that decline is undoubtedly due to thumb and ankle injuries he suffered, but some of it was regression after his first half was fueled mostly by a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Rios had the second-worst walk rate of his career last year ar 4.4%, while having the highest strikeout rate of his career since 2006 at 17.9%.
|Career per 162 games||.278||.323||.439||17||78||2.7|
ZIPS and PECOTA like Rios' chances of bouncing back pretty well, although he still won't be the power source the Royals may be counting on, or the "20-25 home run hitter" Yost thinks he can be. Heat maps suggest pitchers have begun pitching Rios inside more, a possible reason why he struggled to hit for power last season.
Rios has been a liability in the field for the past few seasons, with his numbers taking a nose-dive last season. The Royals are confident working with Rusty Kuntz will improve Rios' defense, but at age 34, its not likely he'll become a good defender. The Royals insist they won't replace Rios late in games in favor of Jarrod Dyson's glove, but Rios may eventually force their hand.
You have a lot of work to do, Rusty.
Rios swiped 42 bases back in 2013, but that number fell to just 17 last year, with him being caught 9 times for a poor success rate. He has generally been a good baserunner throughout his career, although those numbers took a tumble last year when he had just 0.5 baserunning runs.
The Royals will likely bat Rios fifth or sixth in the lineup, counting on gap power, an occasional home run, and passable defense. Rios will likely never be a solid on-base percentage hitter again, making it all the more important he is able to rebound from his career low ISO last year and hit for some power. At $11 million, its an expensive gamble for the Royals to take.
What do you expect out of Alex Rios in 2015?