THE CANADIAN PRESS
NEW YORK — The Toronto Blue Jays liked Alex Rios, but they liked the money his departure would free up even more, which is why the struggling two-time all-star is now a member of the Chicago White Sox.
General manager J.P. Ricciardi allowed Rios to be claimed off waivers by the Sox on Monday, receiving nothing in return other than some bottom-line relief for a player not long ago considered one of the franchise’s cornerstones.
"Do we take the financial flexibility in a time when the game is changing, or do we retake the player and try to address some of our needs?" Ricciardi said of the decision he was facing. "We like the player, but it’s just a situation where the contract for us, it enables us to do different things."
The decision to essentially give Rios away comes a week and a half after the Blue Jays failed to deal away ace Roy Halladay prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline despite taking offers on him for nearly a month.
The team has repeatedly denied that it is in a cost-cutting mode, even though some US$15 million was taken off the payroll last winter. Ricciardi said letting Rios go was not "a financial dump," but acknowledged that the team needs "more financial flexibility."
Rios signed a seven-year contract with the Blue Jays in April 2008 that guarantees him $69,835,000. He was due $5.9 million this season, $9.7 million in 2010, $12 million each in 2011 and 2012 and $12.5 million apiece in 2013 and 2014.
There is also a $13.5 million team option for 2015 with a $1 million buyout. The deal was signed months after the San Francisco Giants thought long and hard before rejecting a Rios for Tim Lincecum trade offer.
"Since we did the contract, so many things have changed in the game economically in the last year, little over a year, and this allows us to get out from under a contract and enables us to do more to address our club going forward," Ricciardi said.
The Blue Jays now have about $52 million committed to five players next season, not including the $10 million due to the recently released B.J. Ryan, and it’s unclear what the team plans to do with its newfound fiscal wiggle room.
In the interim, Rios’s departure likely creates an opening for top prospect Travis Snider, who has been playing well of late for triple-A Las Vegas. No roster move was immediately announced.
His departure also creates a whole in the lineup, although the fans who routinely booed the 28-year-old Rios probably won’t be sorry to see him go.
Rios never lived up to his 30 homer-30 steal potential with the Blue Jays despite back-to-back all-star selections in 2006 and ’07 and his inconsistencies the past two years were maddening for team officials.
He’s struggled most of the season, batting .264 with 14 homers and 62 RBIS in 108 games, and compounding matters, he cursed at a heckling fan following a club function. It was captured on video and posted online, forcing him to apologize the next day.
Rios showed up at Yankee Stadium for Monday night’s game in New York and saw his name in the starting lineup only to leave a few hours later, on his way to a pennant race.
"I’d heard the rumours, but yeah, I thought I was going to stay here," Rios said outside the Blue Jays clubhouse. "Stuff happens, and I just have to move on."
A first-round pick in 1999, Rios had spent his entire career with the Blue Jays, breaking in as a 23-year-old rookie in 2004. A solid defender with a great arm, Rios hit .283 with 81 homers and 395 RBIs over the past six seasons.
"It was a little emotional to say bye to your friends, to the people you came up with," Rios said. "But like I said before, you have to move on. It’s a new team and I just have to keep doing what I was doing here, go out and play hard and just try to help the new team win."
The White Sox, who had expressed interest in Rios for some time, are chasing the Detroit Tigers for top spot in the American League Central and made their second big move involving a high-priced player in the past two weeks. They acquired former National League Cy Young winner Jake Peavy on July 31 from San Diego for four young pitchers.
Peavy, currently on the disabled list, is set to make $15 million in 2010, $16 million in 2011 and $17 million in 2012. There is a $22 million club option for 2013 with a $4 million buyout.
"Tremendous player," White Sox DH Jim Thome said when he found out the team acquired Rios.