In the 2014/2015 offseason, General Manager Dayton Moore had three gaping holes to fill for his defending American League Champions, the Kansas City Royals (I never, ever, ever get tired of writing that). James Shields, Billy Butler, and Nori Aoki left due to free agency. Moore chose to go the route of free agency, acquiring Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, and Alex Rios, respectively filling those previous holes. Moore's choices were widely panned by lots of people, including both us and national writers. From the desk of Joe Posnanski:
The Royals have, best I can tell, had an offseason right out of nightmares from Christmas past. It has seemed so absurdly bad to me — so reminiscent of the famous Royals Juan Gonzalez and Jose Guillen free-agent agonies — that I keep thinking it’s all an elaborate gag.
The problem with criticizing sports general managers and coaches is that they often have more information than we do. The same things that blind them to make idiotic moves (hello, Yuniesky Betancourt, and hello, Yuniesky Betancourt) also inform them of things that we can't glean. Case in point: Volquez owns a respectable 3.31 ERA and an equally respectable 3.79 FIP over 106 innings at the midpoint of this season. Morales has been the most consistent hitter on the team this year with a line of .281/.339/.457, 21% above league average.
And then there is Alex Rios.
In hindsight, Moore's offseason plan was simple, almost elegant: offer short deals (one year to Rios, two years to Morales and Volquez) on a few midrange free agents to supplement the core. Even if the deals didn't pan out, they would be likely to hit on at least one of the free agents; doing so this way would allow the Royals to keep prospects that might have been spent otherwise in a trade and their first-round draft slots that would otherwise be sacrificed to a free agent attached to a qualifying offer.
The flip side to this strategy? Someone is likely to fail. That person is Rios.
One month ago, Max wrote that the Rios signing was not working out. After a fantastic first week, Rios suffered a hand injury and hasn't been the same since. Max ends his piece with this:
But it would be foolish to dump Alex Rios after just 18 injury-filled games; that's not the point of this article. The book on Rios should definitely not be closed this year. After all, Nori Aoki got off to a dreadful start last year, and hit .313/.380/.410 over his last 70 games (and oh, by the way, over the last calendar year Nori is hitting .318/.384/.403 in 539 plate appearances, Rios is hitting .220/.248/.302 in 310 plate appearances).
If Rios is hurt, he needs to go on the disabled list and get healthy. If he is healthy, he needs to start hitting. If he doesn't, the Royals should cut their ties before too long and go with an option that can either hit or play defense, because Rios right now is doing neither.
That was on June 15th. Rios was hitting .214/.247/.300 that day in 18 games.
It's July 16th. Rios is hitting .238/.266/.288 in 43 games.
Sometimes you make a bad decision and you have to cut your losses. Depending on the decision, you can wait quite a while. One month ago, when Max wrote that article about Rios, the time had not come yet. That time, though, is now.
The core part of why Rios needs to go is simple: Rios has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad player, especially offensively. I looked at Fangraphs to compare Rios to his fellow outfielders in Major League Baseball. The results were catastrophic and almost broke my computer.
Out of 114 outfielders with at least 150 plate appearances this season, Rios ranks:
- 114th in wRC+ at 52
- 96th in AVG at .238
- 114th in OBP at .266
- 111th in SLG at .288
- 111th in ISO at .050
- 114th in BB% at 1.8%
- 104th in RBI at 13
- 101st in WAR at -0.3
- 101st in hard-hit balls at 20%
Yikes. Just...yikes. Among those with comparable playing time or more, Rios is the worst outfielder in baseball in wRC+, OBP, and BB%. He is one of the ten worst in SLG, ISO, and RBI. The more in-depth offensive stats suggest Rios has terrible plate discipline and does not make solid contact. If you prefer traditional stats, Rios is a guy who doesn't hit for average or power and doesn't get RBI on a talented, first-place squad. Either way you cut it, Rios just fails offensively.
The worst part is that Rios has been dealing with injuries the last two years and may not ever recover, let alone this year. Rios broke his hand this year, missing a month, and suffered through a thumb injury last year. These can be especially nagging.
Defensively, Rios' stats do not tell as clear of a picture. Ultimate Zone Rating like Rios and gives him an UZR/150 of 4.0; he has a positive UZR/150 three of the past four years. Defensive Runs Saved is far less kind, and says that he has cost the team -4 runs. DRS has ranked Rios negatively for three consecutive years.
Supplementing defensive stats is the eye test and, compared with all the defensive wizards on this team, Rios sticks out like a sore thumb. Unlike fellow outfielders Lorenzo Cain, Paulo Orlando, Alex Gordon, and Jarrod Dyson, Rios often takes circuitous, indirect routes to fly balls. His arm and throwing decisions have also been suspect. Rios also shows a continuous lackadaisy and rarely seems to run at speed or make those stressful, full-effort catches with which we have been spoiled.
Rios is no Jose Guillen--he's clearly a capable athlete and has enough range to adequately perform the standard outfield functions. Still, he's an average defender, and average defense does not save league-worst offense. Omar Infante, for all his offensive malaise, has been technically clean and extremely dependable in his defensive performance.
For a player who does not hit or field, and whose value to the club is negative, and whose club has World Series aspirations, and who is only under contract for one season, and who has no trade value, is useless to his team. Cutting Rios would mean that the Royals would be paying about $5.5 million for the rest of the year to make Rios not play baseball for them. As Tyler Wornell puts it, Alex Rios is a lost cause. The Royals may very well be the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, but it's 2015. The team must be improved.
Who replaces Rios? That's another question for another day, but the simple answer is basically that almost anyone will do. It isn't difficult to replace a guy on pace for -0.6 WAR for the year. With the trade deadline coming up, the Royals can and should explore the market. Even before Gordon's injury, I suggested the Royals trade for Ben Zobrist, and his name is even better now.
What do the Royals do until they get someone? They've got plenty of internal short-term options. A combination of Dyson, Orlando, Whit Merrifield (.316/.361/.439 AAA line from 2014-2015), and/or Brett Eibner and Lane Adams would be fine for two weeks. Heck, Kansas City could even kick the tires on Bubba Starling for two weeks (who has had a blistering July in AA with trademark elite defense and baserunning).
Alex Rios has been one of the worst outfielders in baseball this season. Cutting him would yield no long-term consequences. Thank you for your contributions, Mr. Rios. But baseball is a business, and it's time to let someone else have their shot.