Only four days after inking switch-hitting DH Kendrys Morales to a two-year, $17-million deal, Kansas City GM Dayton Moore has signed 34-year-old right fielder Alex Rios to a one-year, $11-million contract. The Texas Rangers bought out Rios’s $13.5-million option for $1-million earlier this fall.
Rios will replace Nori Aoki, who joined the Royals for the 2014 season. Aoki brought a reputation for solid defense and a moderate power/speed combination from his two years in Milwaukee. Fans were instead tormented by circuitous routes to fly balls, one home run (which was, fittingly, hit away from Kauffman Stadium) and some of the most bizarre swings on record.
Rios brings a pedigree that Aoki lacked, having posted four seasons with four or more Wins Above Replacement, most recently with the division-rival Chicago White Sox in 2012. However, Rios disappointed with the Rangers in 2014, hitting just four home runs (due to an incredibly low 2.9% home-run rate on flies) and getting thrown out on nine of 26 steal attempts, before succumbing to a thumb infection on September 5 and finishing the season on the DL.
However, the mercurial Rios has bounced back from down years before. In 2011, Rios posted a 63 OPS+ for the White Sox, but he rebounded the following year, doubling that number while swatting 25 homers and stealing 23 bases in 29 attempts. Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of his total balls that have been flies has typically sat in the high thirties, though his raw power has never been more than slightly above-average for a corner outfielder. His home-run totals have varied year-to-year, along with his HR/FB%. However, his decreasing average fly-ball distance indicates he is unlikely to post more than the 12 bombs projected by Steamer.
|Year||Average Flyball Distance||HR|
From baseballheatmaps.com accessed 15/12/14
Last postseason, manager Ned Yost frequently substituted Jarrod Dyson for Aoki late in close games to form the greatest defensive outfield of all time. The Rios signing will provide Yost with a similar opportunity, which will help to mitigate the deficiency of Rios’s glove.
If Rios can stay healthy – something he has largely been able to do, except in 2014 – and rediscover the aggressive intelligence that allowed him to steal 42 bases in 2013, the Royals have a piece that can improve what was a middling offense in 2014. Rios won’t address the team’s great offensive weakness, though: a projected lack of power. At the very least, a second year entering the season with an expiring contract in right field will buy the team another year of development for Jorge Bonifacio.
Thanks to Brandon Schlotfeld (@b_schlotfeld)
Stats from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
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