In July, GM Jon Daniels and the Rangers' front office will have a decision to make on the future of Alex Rios. If they have a desire to make him available, he will be the best hitter on the market with another year of control (team option) making him not a rental player.
August 9, 2013: The White Sox traded Rios last August to save $12.5 million in 2014 and a $1 million buyout in 2015 (instead of picking up the $13.5 club option). The Rangers traded a top-20 prospect in their system (Leury Garcia) for Rios who hit .277/.328/.421 for Chicago. He also had 12 home runs, 26 stolen bases and a 102 OPS+.
The 2013 trade deadline did not see many hitters traded to contending teams, and Rios was the best available once Alfonso Soriano went to the Yankees and Marlon Byrd was traded to the Pirates. Like Rios, Soriano had a 102 OPS+ before he was traded for top-15 Yankees prospect RHP Corey Black. Byrd was purely a rental, but he was cheap and he was the best hitter on the market in 2013 as he hit .285/.330/.518 with 21 home runs for the Mets in 117 games. His OPS+ was 138 and he was traded to Pittsburgh along with Catcher John Buck and a player to be named later (Vic Black) for top-10 Pirates prospect Second Baseman Dilson Herrera.
In 2014, of the guys who could be made available: Rios, Adam Dunn, Ben Zobrist, Kendrys Morales and Carlos Quentin, Rios would be the best hitter on the market. While Dunn has a higher OPS (.838 to Rios' .813), Dunn is only a DH candidate and is feast or famine with his bat. If the Rays made Zobrist available, who is only costing $7 million this season and has a $7.5 million team option in 2015, he would be the most valuable position player due to his ability to play multiple positions. The problem with Zobrist is his bat has declined over the last two seasons and he is now hitting .250/.333/.375. Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi says the Royals are interested in Zobrist.
Rios' .319 batting average is seventh in the AL while his 13 stolen bases are ninth best in the league. Among outfielders in MLB, his .814 OPS ranks 19th, batting average is second, 13 stolen bases are tied for 11th and he is among the top 20 MLB outfielders in multiple other categories. While these numbers are great, his batting average is not sustainable over the course of a season as suggested by his .376 BABIP. With his career BABIP being .312, the 2014 numbers would lead us to think he has been lucky putting balls in play more times than not.
If the Rangers were to part with him, it can definitely be on their terms as there is value in keeping him for 2015. Texas will surely want to contend in 2015 and an outfield with a healthy Shin-Soo Choo and a more disciplined Leonys Martin to go along with Rios would be worth close to 10 wins. In today's market, the Rangers could receive a top-10 prospect from a contending team, which could be a significant bullpen piece or back of the rotation starter in 2015 if they chose to part with Rios.
Should the Rangers trade Rios, Michael Choice would be given the chance to sink or swim with the ballclub the remainder of the season. He has been getting inconsistent at-bats this season and has not performed well (.189/.268/.355). If (big IF) Choice could show promise the remainder of the season then he would be penciled in as the Opening Day right fielder with Mitch Moreland as his backup. The long-term solution for right field could be Joey Gallo if his glove cannot play at third base in the big leagues.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Cullen recently suggested that the Red Sox trade for Rios in exchange for two top-25 Boston prospects LHP Brian Johnson and RHP Luis Diaz. Would that be enough for JD and company to pull the trigger? Maybe not, but it is a start. Either way, the Rangers will have options over the next 40 days to improve the team in 2015 and beyond.
Special thanks to Dan Allsup with help on this article.
Eddie Middlebrook also writes for Paranoid Fan as a MLB and College Football contributor. He can be on Twitter@emiddlebrook.