ITD Editorial – Blue Jays Need Rios

J.P. Ricciardi was brought in the Blue Jays family after the 2001 season (80-82 record) and established a five-year plan to put the Toronto franchise back into contention and on its way to a World Series Championship.

While 2006 saw All-Star caliber players like Troy Glaus and A.J. Burnett make their way to the Canadian city, 2007 offered th emost promise to the fans, with a dangerous offense (on paper), but a pitching staff that looked shaky, especially the starting rotation.

Last season went completely awry; injuries depleted the offense, but the pitching was phenomenal even though rookies and young players had to shoulder much of the workload.

We now enter the seventh season of Ricciardi's regime and if we go by last year's optimism, we should feel confident entering the 2008 campaign; the offense should be 100% healthy (the same that was qualified as dangerous at the beginning of last year) and the pitching staff will be the same that left hitters shaking their heads a just few months ago.

This brings me to the subject of my editorial: why trade Rios, a potential #3 hitter in the lineup? Aren't they in a win-now mode?

The Coffee, Alabama native has just posted his best career numbers in a variety of offensive and defensive categories: doubles(43), home runs (24), runs batted in (85), stolen bases (17), walks (55), OPS+(122), total bases (320) and won the Fielding Bible Awards as one of the three best outfielder in the major leagues.

He will also be 27-years-old when playing next season, which means he is now entering the prime of his career.

This team desperately needs Rios to bat in the middle of the order, run down balls in the outfield alongside Vernon Wells and also to stop runners from taking the extra bases when he plays right field. We can't even bring up the money issue to back a trade, because Toronto still controls him through arbitration until 2010.

To lose this right-handed batter is to completely sabotage an offense that would not be able to replace the production he can bring all by himself. The argument that the trade could potentially bring us an ace-caliber starter is a decent proposal, but do they really need it as much as they need his estimated 7-8 wins above a replacement level player in 2008 alone? No.

Let's say his current value on the market gives them a pitcher like Tim Lincecum and that 2008 should see him post even better numbers overall. Why not wait next year and bring in maximum value in a trade for him?

If the team competes to the level it is expected to next year, a presence in the postseason is quite possible and Rios' agent would surely ask for a share of the team's profit following a playoff appearance in the shape of a long-term contract (if it is not taken care of before the 2008season). This would be the perfect time to part ways with the player, just when he gave the team one of his best years of his career and probably with the Jays at the dawn of the Travis Snider era.

The temptation to break up this formidable offense for the sake of getting a starting pitcher when the rotation is strong, young and cheap is difficult to understand. However, some people are trying to justify it.

Another plausible scenario would be to trade the right fielder for a young arm and then turn around and trade Burnett for a big bat before he opts out of his contract at the end of next season. Ok, but what if the move blows up in the team's face and opposing teams don't value Burnett as high as Toronto was, mainly because he has pitched 200 innings only two times in his major league career? What if the big bat the Jays obtain doesn't perform as well?

The general manager has repeated time and time again that Burnett can help the team win now and that it would take a lot to move him. The same should apply to Rios' situation.

Analysts have predicted Toronto would never make it after Carlos Delgado departed to Florida as a free agent, after the college picks were not supposed to produce in the big leagues and after Rios was valued as nothing more than average offensive threat. This club is strong and ready to compete.

The future is now.

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