Alex Rios has been wildly inconsistent in his career but his talent is enticing for teams needing an upgrade. (Getty Images)
Tuesday night was a big one for a pair of outfielders who may well be on the move before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. In Detroit, Alex Rios went 6-for-6 in the White Sox' 11-4 victory over the Tigers, while in San Francisco, Marlon Byrd's eighth inning grand slam propelled the Mets to a 10-6 win over the Giants. While neither player is suited to be the centerpiece of a lineup, those kind of performances will only increase their value to potential suitors in need of a supplementary righthanded outfield bat.
Rios became the 32nd American League player to collect six hits in a nine inning game and the first since the Rangers' Ian Kinsler did so agains the Orioles on April 15, 2009. The last player from either league to tally six hits in a nine-inning game was Adrian Gonzalez, who did it for the Padres against the Brewers on Aug. 11, 2009. The only player since then to collect six hits in a game regardless of length was the Brewers' Jean Segura, who did it against the Twins on May 28 of this season. Rios' big night, which included a triple and five singles — two of them amid a seven-run, eighth-inning rally — raised the 32-year-old righty's season line to .281/.333/.448, and offered hope that he's snapping out of a recent slump that may owe to swirling trade rumors. While his line is down from last year's impressive rebound (.304/.334/.516) from a dismal 2011 showing, it's representative of his overall career performance (.278/.325/.444).
Byrd's homer, his 14th of the year and his first grand slam since Sept. 26, 2009, gave him five multi-hit games already this month, a total helped along by his team's penchant for playing extra-inning marathons; he made seven plate appearances in three of those games, all of which lasted between 13 and 16 innings. Overall, the 35-year-old righty is hitting .269/.315/.500, a strong recovery from a 2012 marred by a horrendous slump and a suspension for performance-enhancing drug use. The batting average and on-base percentage are typical of the free-swinging oufielder's overall body of work (.278/.334/.419), but his home run total is already his highest since 2009, when the Rangers' hitter-friendly ballpark enabled career bests of 20 dingers and a .479 slugging percentage.
From a financial standpoint, Byrd is the less expensive of the pair, a pending free agent making just $700,000. While unlikely to yield a top prospect in return, his negligible salary should enhance the Mets' return in trade. Though he's been the most productive hitter in a relatively unproductive outfield, New York would do well to remember last year, when it passed up numerous opportunities to trade the similarly productive Scott Hairston, who didn't yield any compensation when he departed as a free agent after the season.
Rios, on the other hand, still has almost $20 million remaining on a seven-year, $69.8 million contract that led the Blue Jays to dump him via waivers in 2009, only to have the White Sox rescue them by claiming him and thus picking up the balance of his contract. He's owed a bit less than half of this year's $12.5 million salary and will make the same amount next year, with a $1 million buyout of a $13.5 million club option for 2015. The amount of money the White Sox are willing to absorb will determine the quality of their return; the more they eat, the better they can improve a minor league system that in the springtime ranked among the majors' bottom three by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.
Rios' contract does include a limited no-trade clause that can prevent him from being dealt to six teams, which at last report consisted of the A's, Astros, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Royals and Yankees. Working around such clauses may be as simple as picking up his 2015 option, not that it necessarily makes him more palatable under the circumstances. With that in mind, here's a quick look at the contenders (listed alphabetically) who could be in the market for the services of one of these two outfielders.
With Ryan Ludwick out since Opening Day due to a shoulder dislocation that required surgery, the Reds have gotten just a .243//.313/.379 showing from their leftfielders, mainly lefty Xavier Paul, switch-hitter Derrick Robinson and righty Chris Heisey, who recently returned after missing two months due to a hamstring strain. Rios' experience in centerfield would give Cincinnati the option of moving Shin-Soo Choo — who's been about 10 runs below average according to both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating — to left. That wouldn't be a huge improvement given that Rios was eight or nine below average there over the course of his last full season in center in 2011, but the Reds are in a tight three-way race in the NL Central where it could matter. Given that Ludwick is signed for next year and that the team is already paying a franchise record $106 million in payroll, Byrd may make more sense.
Kansas City Royals
At 43-44, the Royals may fancy themselves contenders, though they're longshots according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds, with an estimated 2.8 percent chance at a spot. Given their all-in approach via the Wil Myers/James Shields trade, they're likely to continue trying to improve even given their slim chances. While rookie David Lough (.293/.312/.453) has been an improvement over the recently-released Jeff Francouer, he's a 27-year-old lefty who could probably use a platoon partner. Rios has the power to block a deal here, and it's difficult to imagine the White Sox paying much of a division rival's salary, so again, Byrd could be the word in Kansas City.
New York Yankees
With Curtis Granderson limited to just eight games due to a pair of hit-by-pitch-induced fractures, and Ichiro Suzuki showing that last year's post-trade rebound was indeed a mirage, the Yankees have gotten abysmal production at the outfield corners, .227/.265/.344 in leftfield and .268/.312/.387 in rightfield. Again, Rios has the power to block a deal, and given that New York is paying both Suzuki and the slumping Vernon Wells through next season, he's not a good fit. Byrd could pair with Suzuki as a platoon partner, though in the small sample of this year's work, the latter has least been able to reverse a downward spiral against same-side pitching. Byrd could also see playing time as a designated hitter, where they've gotten an abysmal .209/.299/.372 performance, though the returns of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are expected to crowd that slot given concerns about overworking them in the field.
The A's owe very little of the league's second-best record (54-37) to the production of their outfielders, who have combined to hit .223/.298/.390, with centerfielder Coco Crisp the only one of the four principals (Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Chris Young being the others) with an OPS+ over 100. The lefty-swinging Reddick has been a particularly lost cause against lefties (.186/.319/.322 in 79 PA), not that he's been much better against righties. Again, Rios' no-trade complicates matters and suggests Byrd would have the greater appeal in this context.
At 53-36, the Bucs have the league's second-best record, but they've lost six of eight since the calendar flipped to July and have scored a total of six runs during their current four-game losing streak (more on this later today at The Strike Zone). With their rightfielders hitting a combined .238/.302/.378 for the lineup's second-lowest OPS (shortstop is much worse), the position is ripe for an upgrade. That spot has been a recurring problem that has involved lefties Garrett Jones and Travis Snider as well as righty first baseman Gaby Sanchez — part of a two-position platoon spurred by last July's ultimately inadequate acquisition of the latter two players — which makes a longer-term solution involving Rios sensible, particularly given that the team should be willing to add payroll beyond its current $66.8 million in order to break its 20-year losing streak.
San Francisco Giants
With their outfield significantly weakened by the loss of Angel Pagan and their offense flatlining, the defending world champions have lost 18 out of 23 to plummet to 40-49, fourth in the NL West. The overexposure of Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres — who made for a solid platoon given that the former has a weakness against lefties and the latter is all but unplayable against righties — led the Giants to sign Francouer to a minor league deal earlier this week. That's hardly ideal, though, as it would force the increasingly shaky Torres into centerfield against lefties while allowing Francouer to do the one thing he does well, which is hit lefties (.287/.338/.471 career). San Francisco will need more than that to rebound; either Byrd or Rios would represent a better everyday option in left.
Though they have the league's third-best record (53-37), the Rangers are getting less than nothing from lefty-swinging leftfielder David Murphy (.222/.282/.384), and while it's far from a certainty, they face the possibility of losing Nelson Cruz to a Biogenesis-related suspension. Particularly given that both players will be free agents at the end of the year and that the Rangers don't have much in the way of replacements on hand barring the conversions of Ian Kinsler and/or minor leaguer Mike Olt (forget the Jurickson Profar experiment in left, which finally saw daylight on July 6), Rios makes sense here. On the other hand, Byrd enjoyed the best years of his career with the Rangers from 2007-2009, hitting a combined .295/.352/.468; he owns a lifetime line of .305/.373/.512 in 793 plate appearances at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington as well. Barring an unforeseen blockbuster, bet on Texas to land one of these two players.