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One Very Expensive Free Pick Up

Most years the waiver wire serves as a way for organizations to dump large salaries in the final year of a player's contract when the team is out of contention. Sometimes they can even glean a low or mid-level prospect in return, or at the very least receive some sort of compensation.

Monday night's news that the White Sox had picked up outfielder Alex Rios on waivers from the Blue Jays takes that concept a little far. Rios is a two-time All-Star with the youth to overcome a couple sub par seasons and still grow into the player the Blue Jays thought he would become when they gave him a $70 million contract.

Yes, you read that right: The White Sox just picked up a guy who is on a contract that pays him approximately $10 million per year or more from here out ... and his current team didn't even want him. Rather than pulling Rios back and trying to work out a trade, the Blue Jays gratefully dumped the remaining $62 million of his deal on Chicago, providing what general manager J.P. Ricciardi called "financial flexibility".

So, what do the White Sox get for Toronto's "financial flexibility"? They get lineup flexibility, with the potential to rest designated hitter Jim Thome in favor of still recovering left fielder Carlos Quentin (who is back playing in the outfield, but whom manager Ozzie Guillen would like to find more days when he's not playing the field), a chance to give right fielder Jermaine Dye a breather once in awhile and, perhaps most importantly, they have security if any of their key outfielders -- who provide almost all of the team's power not delivered by Jim Thome -- comes down with an injury during the stretch.

It's precisely the kind of move for depth that could take a team like the White Sox and give them an edge that the Tigers -- who have plenty of aging starters just begging to come down with an August or September injury -- just don't have.

That's what makes it a smart move. Here's what makes it a crazy one: The $62 million left on Rios's contract.

Assuming such an enormous sum by taking on an outfielder of Rios's age almost ensures that the White Sox will let either Thome or Dye, or both, walk in the offseason rather than re-sign Thome or exercise Dye's contract option. That means Rios will be shifted from a luxury, depth player to a guy who has to provide significant numbers to fill a void. At the $9.7 million Rios will make next season (let alone the high of $13.5 million he'll pull down in 2015), the White Sox could have been legitimate players to re-sign Thome ... or to pay almost all of Dye's mutual option.

It's a calculated gamble that may be focused almost entirely on Rios's youth. Both Thome and Dye are aging stars, with both appearing particularly vulnerable to future injuries from here on out. While Rios is unlikely to provide the power of either of those bats, he almost certain will outstrip either player in durability.

He also brings more athleticism, which could change the makeup of Chicago's outfield. Perhaps the White Sox can help save some runs by fielding a better defensive outfield with Rios and Scott Podsednik, even with Quentin a bit suspect in left field.

Do any of these factors make picking up Rios a smart move? That all depends, and such a verdict may rest largely on the results he provides this year. If Rios catapults Chicago to the postseason, maybe the White Sox can find a way to keep Dye around for another year or let Dye walk and re-sign Thome. Doing that would still change the complexion of the team going forward, but would provide some of the power lost when the other player leaves. Making the playoffs would just give Rios and the White Sox something to build on, and he could prove to be part of a young core of positional players for the team going forward. It would certainly do a lot to make this look like a smart gamble on Chicago's South side.

Then again, if the White Sox miss the playoffs, that will just heap more doubt on a risky waiver wire pickup by Chicago General Manager Ken Williams.

By Cameron Smith  |  August 11, 2009; 12:57 PM ET
Categories:  Blue Jays , White Sox  | Tags: Alex Rios, Blue Jays, White Sox, waiver wire  
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Comments

Metrics that I've read about Rios show him to be about 3 wins above replacement player. That is worth a whole lot more to the White Sox than to the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays were smart to dump the contract when they know it's going to be a while before they can legitimately contend with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays.

The White Sox get a big offensive upgrade in CF and keep defensive value as well. That makes his contract bearable, or perhaps even completely worth it. Rios definitely has defensive value, and it's worth a lot.

The biggest way this could come back to bite the White Sox is if player salaries continue to stay dampened. Even then they'd probably only be slightly overpaying for Rios. But if you match the addition of his defense with the addition of Peavy, you're looking at a good combo.

Posted by: adampschroeder | August 11, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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