The On Deck Circle

Where practice swings don’t exist

Breaking Down Rios’ 1-year Contract

Posted by Blake Murphy on February 8, 2008

On Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays announced that they had agreed to a one-year contract with up and coming outfielder Alex Rios. While both sides said there will be ample opportunity to discuss an extension before spring training, I want to take a second to look at the deal strictly as a one-year agreement.

Terms of the Deal
The deal is a one-year contract valued at $4.835M for the 2008 season. This is a significant raise from his 2007 salary of $2.535M, with the raise being based primarily on his second all-star appearance, an additional year of service, and continually improving statistics. Because baseball salary arbitration is based heavily on ‘comparables’ (previous contracts given to players of similar production and MLB tenure), contracts are not always indicative of a player’s actual value. In this case, Rios is still ‘controllable’ until 2010, meaning the two sides would strike a deal in arbitration regardless of whether they could agree or not. The Jays avoided arbitration with Rios (no Jay has gone to arbitration since 1997), and actually struck a deal closer to their original offer ($4.535M) than Rios’ ($5.6M), which could be indicative that Rios’ side is optimistic about a long term deal.

Rios’ Long Term Future in Toronto
In each of the past two offseasons, rumors have floated around about Rios being dealt to the National League for a pitcher. In 2006 it was to Philadelphia for any number of mediocre middle-rotation guys, and this past summer the rumors were to San Francisco for hot pitching prospects Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain. Clearly then, J.P. Ricciardi is not averse to trading Rios. The one-year deal is usually a formality for teams looking at long-term extensions, as it avoids arbitration and allows the teams to negotiate an extension heading into spring training. The Jays seem adamant about doing so, but this wouldn’t be the first time J.P. had fleeced the Toronto media on the team’s going-ons. The farm system has outfield prospects Adam Lind (LF) and Travis Snider (RF), and Wells is still fairly young, so the Jays don’t necessarily need Rios deep into the future, persay. Personally, I think he is going to be an even better player than Wells and since he is four years his junior, will be a cheaper and longer-term option. The smart money is on Rios playing out the season with his current deal and the two sides going through this again next year (like I said, he can’t be a free agent until 2010).

Rios’ Long Term Contractual Value
Rios is clearly an up and coming star in the American League. He has 30 home run potential, 100 RBI capability, and has shown that he can hit at a .300 average. He also offers great speed (17 steals in a red-light system) and a cannon in right field, though his defense is occasionally Devon White-esque (lazy). Rios should only get better and is at the age where, statistically, players start to hit their prime. Alexis can be had for cheaper than Wells and offers almost the exact same value, moreso long term, so a likely deal is probably 5-6 years at $9M-ish per year. While it seems like a lot for a player who is still viewed as a prospect, it s a heavy discount on Vernon and other comparable outfielders, is similar to the recent deal given to Robby Cano, locks him in long term in an ever-inflating market, and he has had back to back strong seasons, so there is little inherent risk.

Rios’ 2008 Outlook
In 2006, Rios hit .302-17-82 with 15 steals and a .353 OBP. In 2007, he improved to .297-24-85 with 17 steals and a .352 OBP. While he played fewer games in 2006, he is clearly capable of consistent output at an elite level. Baseball statistical analyst and mastermind Ron Shandler posits that players hit their peak around 27 or 28, Rios’ current age, so one would predict imporvements still to come. Shandler also analyzes a great number of non-traditional statistics and has predicted Rios to provide .293-22-90 with 17 steals and a .351 OBP in 2008. Unfortunately, Shandler’s method is purely statistical and does not take into account human factors. When you also consider that Rios was shuffled around the lineup last year with little protection from Wells in the order, and the fact that he endured one long slump and was not permitted to steal freely, there are qualitative factors that would predict an upswing in his numbers. I think a likely scenario is .300-27-95 with 20 steals and a .360 OBP, numbers that are well worth his current one year deal and very close to worth the long-term deal I proposed earlier.

Jays’ Future in the Outfield
Vernon Wells is under contract until 2014, Alex Rios is controllable until 2010, Matt Stairs is contracted until 2009, Reed Johnson is done after 2008, and in the minors, Adam Lind and Travis Snider are controllable long into the future. Wells provides a great cornerstone to build around but could also be excellent trade bait to upgrade at aging positions in a year or two (when Rolen and Thomas are on their way out). The club projects Lind to be ready for 2009 and Snider for 2010, but Snider has moved quickly through the organization and may force the club’s hand sooner. For 2008, the outfield is Johnson-Wells-Rios with Stairs off the bench, but the future looks drastically different. In 2009, we will either see Lind-Wells-Rios or Snider-Wells-Rios with Lind sliding to DH for the departing (or calcifying?) Frank Thomas. In 2010, it is almost certain to be Lind-____-Snider, with one of Wells or Rios moved on, or Snider-Wells-Rios with Lind at DH. Obviosuly the future is bright for Toronto in the outfield, as Rios and Wells are both capable of .300-30-100, Lind projects as a solid .300 hitter with 20-homer power, and Snider has shown monster power in the minors with great averages to boot.

The Jays can certainly afford to lose Rios (via trade, most likely, to garner pitching), but I feel with Lind’s current high-risk status, Wells’ higher trade value and larger contract (and he’s older), and the fact that Rios is one of the most popular (and easily the sexiest) Jays, locking him up long term is the right move. There is no such thing as too much depth in baseball, so the saying goes, so even if a long term deal gives us an outfield logjam in 2010, in the words of Marlo Stanfield, “that sounds like one of those good problems.”

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