The only question for Alex Rios entering the 2013 season will be: Can he come close to repeating what he achieved in 2012, particularly in an odd-numbered season?
Rios’ performance in 2012 was more than what general manager Ken Williams envisioned when he took the gamble of claiming Rios on waivers in August 2009. Rios set personal bests with 25 home runs and 91 RBIs.
He also batted .470 (31-for-66) with runners in scoring position with less than two out, which enabled the Sox to extend rallies for the likes of A.J. Pierzynski, Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez.
Manager Robin Ventura’s decision in spring training to move Rios from center field to right placed a calming effect on Rios, who returned to his natural position after playing center with the Sox for 2 1/2 seasons because Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin played right field and possessed less range than Rios.
Rios appeared to play more fearlessly on balls hit toward the fence than he did during the time he spent in center, and he seemed to read line drives hit in the right-center gap more accurately.
At 31, Rios showed no signs of slowing down. He played in 157 games — his most since playing 161 with Toronto in 2007. He also stole 23 bases while being caught only six times.
His .304 batting average was 20 points higher than his mark in 2010. Perhaps Rios’ most impressive feat was that he didn’t go more than three games without a hit. He finished the season going 11-for-22 and batted .385 over his final 21 games.
“He didn’t make tweaks,” said hitting coach Jeff Manto, who worked with Rios for the first time in 2012. “He made big-time adjustments. It’s a credit to him to have the courage to try different things. As we talked through hitting and I got to know him and know what he wanted to do, things evolved into what we wanted to do today. I think he’s pretty comfortable.”
Rios will earn $25 million over the next two years, and his 2013 salary would increase his salary by $500,000 if he is traded. His stock is very high, but there should be plenty of pause to any consideration to trade him (Rios has a limited no-trade clause that recently involved West Coast teams).
With the probable departure of Pierzynski, Paul Konerko entering the final year of his contract and Adam Dunn looking to duplicate his power while reducing his franchise-record 222 strikeouts, Rios could be the closest to being a sure thing in 2013.
The expectation is that the Sox will give Rios more of a rest in 2013, although he didn’t wilt like some of his teammates. The Sox do have future replacements for him in right in Trayce Thompson and Courtney Hawkins, but they likely won’t be ready until after the Sox decide whether to pick up the team option on Rios in 2015 for $13.5 million or give him a $1 million buyout.
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