Two more positions to go in our daily breakdown of the White Sox as we now get to the middle of the outfield.
Look back at 2010: A bad season from Alex Rios could have collapsed the Kenny Williams empire, but the general manager’s huge gamble from 2009 started to pay off. Rios, who was a waiver claim from the Blue Jays that came attached with a huge contract, delivered 21 home runs, 88 RBIs and 89 runs scored, while playing solid defense. The second-highest paid position player on the team at $10.2 million (behind Paul Konerko’s $12 million), Rios was the team’s second-best run producer. Despite tailing off at the end of the season, Rios finished tied with the second best batting average (.284) among American League center fielders with at least 350 at-bats. He was also fourth best in on-base percentage (.334) and slugging percentage (.457). He flashed occasional speed (34 steals), making him an ideal fit in Guillen’s up-tempo lineup. Aside from Rios, Andrew Jones started 13 games in center, while Alejandro De Aza made six starts there at the end of the season.
Look ahead to 2011: The pressure is still on Rios (and Williams, for that matter), as the center fielder’s salary increases to $12.5 million. And unlike Juan Pierre, who will have $3.5 million of his salary paid for by the Dodgers, nobody is going to help foot the bill on Rios. Along with Konerko, Rios had one of the steadiest seasons on the team in 2010 and more of the same wouldn’t hurt. Along with Alexei Ramirez at shortstop and what figures to be an improved Gordon Beckham at second base, Rios helps solidify the team’s defense up the middle. Defense and pitching figure to be vital for the White Sox next season, especially if they lose Konerko’s production via free agency. Jones isn’t likely to return giving De Aza a chance to earn the role during spring training.
Key stat: Rios became the fourth player in White Sox history to record at least 20 home runs and 20 steals in the same season, joining Tommie Agee (1966), Ray Durham (2001) and Magglio Ordonez (2001).
Quote: “He’d be hitting .400 if he had any kind of luck.” Williams, on Rios, who was batting .307 on July 20.