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Rios' departure marks shift in strategy for Jays

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Alex Rios batted .285 during his six-year Blue Jays career.
(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Here are the batting lines of two players, outfielders on the same team, since the start of the 2008 season:

Player A, 28 years old: .280 BA, .329 OBP, .447 SGP, .776 OPS.

Player B, 30 years old: .279 BA, .324 OBP, .454 SGP, .778 OPS.

Remarkably similar, no?

Player A is Alex Rios(notes), whom the Toronto Blue Jays just jettisoned as part of the biggest salary dump in baseball history, letting him go to the Chicago White Sox in a waiver deal in which they received nothing in return. The stats represent Rios' performance since he signed a seven-year, $69.83 million contract extension.

Player B is Vernon Wells(notes), who along with Rios was supposed to be a major building block with which Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi would build a championship contender.

Rios' performance was deemed so disappointing that the Blue Jays decided they'd rather have the cash, especially with Rios still due nearly $60 million.

You would have to assume they are equally disappointed in Wells, but he's not going anywhere. Wells signed a seven-year, $126 million deal prior to the 2007 season, of which $98.5 million has been backloaded over the last five years of the deal. He will be drawing a salary of $21 million or more in each of the last four years of the deal. Wells also has a full no-trade clause in his contract and, incredibly, an opt-out clause that he can exercise after 2011.

Sending Rios to the White Sox was a way for Ricciardi to cut his losses, though if the money in Rios' contract hadn't been so backloaded, the Blue Jays might have been able to extract something from the White Sox other than cash.

If you're Toronto ace Roy Halladay(notes), how can you draw any other conclusion than that you are certain to go this winter? Dumping players for cash is not the typical stratagem of a GM persuaded that his team will be in playoff contention anytime soon.

If anything, it appears the actions of a GM who has received a signal from above that the Blue Jays, who have done some big spending in recent years (B.J. Ryan(notes), Frank Thomas(notes), A.J. Burnett(notes)) in an attempt to compete with the superpowers in the AL East, are about to revert to a more modest economic model, a concession to a struggling economy and slumping fan base, one unlikely to race to the turnstiles this winter.

Ricciardi had been hired from Oakland under similar circumstances, the assumption being that he could build a winner with a small-market mentality. The purse strings subsequently got loosened and Ricciardi made the Jays better but not a contender in the AL East, and now the team is on the verge of another change in direction.

The White Sox, with a real chance to win this year and being able to overpay for Rios going forward (along with their other new high-priced acquisition, Jake Peavy(notes)), are operating under a different financial reality. To the winner go the spoils? Indeed.

HITTING THE CORNERS

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Pedro Martinez delivers on a rehab assignment with the Double-A Reading Phillies.
(Bradley C. Bower/AP photo)

A peek at Pedro: Pedro Martinez(notes) returns to the big leagues Wednesday with a start against the Cubs in Chicago, the first time he will have pitched in Wrigley Field since 1996, when he was with the Montreal Expos. Here's a scouting report from one major league scout who watched Martinez last week in his final tuneup for the Phillies' Double-A team in Reading:

"He looked better than I've seen him in two years. He struck out 11 and walked none. He really schooled and toyed with the Trenton [Double-A New York Yankees] hitters, adding and subtracting, mixing and moving the ball around the zone and changing eye levels. His fastball was 87-91/89 [the range was 87-91, he averaged 89]; he maintained throwing 90-91 in the sixth inning, while both his changeup 75-81/77 and curveball 69-75/71 were plus, his slider 79-82/81 was average. His fastball was his most hittable pitch. His command was plus.''

Pumping the clutch: If you were trying to remember the last time someone hit a home run to break up scoreless games in the late innings twice in the same series, like Alex Rodriguez(notes) did last weekend against the Red Sox, forget it. According to the Yankees, relying on information provided by the Elias Sports Bureau, it has never been done before. A-Rod hit a walkoff home run in the bottom of the 15th on Friday night to give the Yankees a 2-0 win, then he homered again in the eighth inning Sunday to break another scoreless tie in another game the Yankees would ultimately win 5-2. Elias said no player has ever homered in the seventh inning or later in a scoreless game twice in the same series. Twelve of Rodriguez's home runs this season have tied a game or given the Yankees a lead. Five times he has homered in the seventh inning or later to put the Yankees ahead, which leads the majors.

So is A-Rod this season's Mr. Clutch? Before making that call, you should know that overall, Rodriguez is batting just .243 with runners in scoring position, and there are a number of candidates whose numbers make them deserving of consideration. Four batters are hitting .400 or better with runners in scoring position: Jason Bartlett(notes) of the Rays leads the majors with a .432 average entering play Tuesday night, followed by Bobby Abreu(notes) of the Angels (.422), Manny Ramirez(notes) of the Dodgers (.421) and Yunel Escobar(notes) of the Braves (.415). Then there are the guys who pitchers simply don't want to face with RISP: Albert Pujols(notes) of the Cardinals leads the majors with a .588 OBP, joining Chipper Jones(notes) of the Braves (.543), Manny (.506) and Bartlett (.505) as players over .500. Six players have 60 or more RBIs with runners in scoring position, led by the Brewers' Prince Fielder(notes), who has 70. Mark Reynolds(notes) of the Diamondbacks has the most home runs (12), with Ryan Ludwick(notes) of the Cardinals, Adam Dunn(notes) of the Nationals and Carlos Pena(notes) of the Rays each hitting 10.

On the flip side, one of the least productive hitters with RISP, especially for the $14 million he is being paid this season by the Red Sox, is J.D. Drew(notes), batting just .173. Teammate David Ortiz(notes) (.194) hasn't been much better, while two catchers, Miguel Olivo(notes) of the Royals (.200) and Ivan Rodriguez(notes) of the Astros (.209) are among the lowest in OBP.

Pirate poaching: Since the start of 2008, the Pirates have traded away entire outfields – Jason Bay(notes), Xavier Nady(notes), Nate McLouth(notes), Nyjer Morgan(notes), Eric Hinske(notes) – and infields – Andy LaRoche(notes), Doug Mientkiewicz(notes), Freddy Sanchez(notes), Jack Wilson(notes), Jose Bautista(notes) – plus a few arms (Ian Snell(notes), Tom Gorzelanny(notes), John Grabow(notes)) to boot. All the movement has done nothing to forestall the Pirates experiencing their 17th consecutive losing season, but Bay, an All-Star now with the Red Sox, defends the current regime of GM Neal Huntington and president Frank Coonelly.

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Bay

"They're building from the ground up,'' Bay said. "I think what they're trying to do is get a bunch of guys together and once they get good to sustain that rather than put a Band-Aid on it. We had some guys here that were pretty good. It's a big deal there that they've had 16 losing seasons. The easy fix would have been to try to keep us and try to bump that. But are we a playoff team or just a team that didn't lose? Believe me, there's no way they would have traded Nate McLouth unless they got more than they were expecting in return. They're too smart. Nate was the face of that team.

"Time will tell. They've gotten guys who haven't proven it, so they're taking a huge risk. A lot of people want to say it's finances, that everything is done because of money. I totally do not believe that. Frank and the guys who are there are trying to do the right things. It's going to bother a lot of people because they don't want to hear it. They just wonder why they're trading away their best players. But they're not stupid. It doesn't let people sleep at night, but that's the reality of where they are now.''

And it's worth noting that the Pirates are spending freely on draft picks, spending significantly over slot to stock up in lower rounds after signing Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez as their No. 1 pick.

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Young

Fungo hitting: It looked like a pretty good idea at the time, after a rookie season in which he hit 32 home runs, stole 27 bases and played stellar defense, that the Arizona Diamondbacks bought Chris Young out of his arbitration years by signing him to a five-year, $28 million contract on the eve of his second year. It didn't look nearly as good Thursday, when the Diamondbacks sent Young back to the minors with a .197 batting average, the lowest of all qualifiers for the NL batting title. He also had just seven home runs and 27 RBIs … How good is outfielder Dominic Brown, the prospect the Phillies would not part with in a trade for Roy Halladay? One scout said he's the best player he's ever seen come through Double-A Reading, a list that includes Ryan Howard(notes), Chase Utley(notes), Scott Rolen(notes) and Jimmy Rollins(notes) … It made for a poignant juxtaposition that the reports of Josh Hamilton's(notes) lapse in controlling his addiction to alcohol was followed a couple days later by the death of Merlyn Mantle, widow of Mickey Mantle, the player that Hamilton at his best has been likened to. The Mantle family was ravaged by alcohol; Mickey and three of his sons … David, Danny and Mickey Jr. … underwent treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic, while Merlyn attended Alcoholics Anonymous. Merlyn Mantle died Monday at age 77 of complications from Alzheimer's disease, almost 14 years to the day that The Mick died of cancer.

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