Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Royals add Alex Rios, but is there a plan?

Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios both have had big success as major league baseball players.

Trouble is, neither had good seasons in 2014.

But the Kansas City Royals are banking three years and $28 million combined that Morales, the team’s new designated hitter, and Rios, who is coming as a free agent to play right field, will perform like the players they once were.

As recently as 2012, Rios had an .850 OPS for the Chicago White Sox, batting .304 with 25 homers and 81 RBIs. In 2013, he batted .278 with 18 homers, 81 RBIs and 42 stolen bases for the White Sox and Texas, which landed him at the trade deadline.

But 2014 wasn’t as good for Rios, an average right fielder who won’t be as good defensively as Nori Aoki, a free agent who patrolled right field for the Royals last season.

In 521 plate appearances for the Rangers, Rios hit only four home runs. It’s an alarming power outage for a player who had averaged nearly 19 homers the previous four seasons.

Rios suffered an ankle injury late last season, but he wasn’t hitting for power before being hurt. I suppose the encouraging thing is that Rios still hit 30 doubles and eight triples. Still, his slugging percentage fell below .400 (.398) for the first time since 2009 with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rios was an All-Star for Toronto in 2006 and 2007 when he looked like a rising star. He had WARs (wins above replacement) of 4.6, 5.6 and 5.9 for Toronto from 2006-08, but his WAR last season was 0.6.

Rios, even with the reduction in home runs, has more offensive pop than Aoki, but doesn’t reach base as often. And Aoki earned just under $2 million last season while Kansas City will reportedly pay Rios $11 million on a one-year deal.

Is Rios an upgrade?

Isn’t that the $11 million question?

Rios has been durable. He still has speed. He’s adequate defensively.

But what has happened to his home-run stroke?

Texas’ home field, The Ballpark at Arlington, is a home-run hitter’s haven. And Rios is a free swinger; he’s drawn only 385 career walks in 1,586 games.

He’ll be 34 when the 2015 season begins, so you wonder how much of his power stroke he can regain. And, of course, he’s coming to a ballpark in Kansas City that doesn’t give up many long balls.

It would appear Royals general manager is finished adding major components to the team’s offense, although Kansas City is still in the market for a starting pitcher to plug in for free agent right-hander James Shields.

It’s fair to ask whether this is how Moore envisioned his team’s offensive lineup looking after the necessary tweaks, or whether Moore was forced into making a couple of deals he didn’t want to make.

Morales and Rios at or near their peak career production would make the Royals a much more dangerous offensive team.

But neither player was even close to peak production in 2014 and neither is getting any younger.

How might the Royals’ lineup look on Opening Day. Something like this:

Alcides Escobar, SS

Lorenzo Cain, CF

Alex Gordon, LF

Kendrys Morales, DH

Eric Hosmer, 1B

Alex Rios, RF

Salvador Perez, C

Mike Moustakas, 3B

Omar Infante, 2B

Given that the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and especially the Chicago White Sox have made improvements – and that 2014 American League Central champ Detroit still looks strong – are the Royals in position to again reach the playoffs?

If Morales and Rios can rekindle some offense, and Moore can find a suitable replacement for Shields, the Royals are still in a good spot. But Morales and Rios are a long way from being sure things.

Kansas City is paying them for what they once were. Whether they can be that again is the great unknown.