NEW YORK -- Ken Williams got the guy he wanted.
Less than two weeks after trading for Jake Peavy, the pitcher he had long coveted, the White Sox general manager has acquired Alex Rios, an outfielder he has long been interested in. Rios went to the White Sox Monday in a straight waiver claim, with the Blue Jays simply allowing Chicago to take his contract, without getting a player in return.
Rios is expected play center field for the White Sox. There's a chance he could move to right field in the future, since Jermaine Dye is in the final year of his contract and is unlikely to return in 2010.
Rios is having just a so-so season with Toronto, hitting .264 with 14 home runs, 62 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. Some scouts view him as a potential 30-30 player (30 homers, 30 steals).
"I think he's a good player not having a good year," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "I'd be surprised if he's not playing on an All-Star team again someday."
So why did Ricciardi let the 28-year-old Rios go, without even getting a player back?
Simple. With the Blue Jays' reduced payroll, and with baseball's new economic realities, Rios' contract no longer made sense for Toronto. Rios signed a seven-year, $69.835 million contract in April 2008, and he's due nearly $60 million over the next five years. Meanwhile, the Jays have cut their payroll to the $80 million range, and already have one untradeable contract with Vernon Wells, whose salary goes up to $23 million in 2011.
"In a lot of ways, cash is king going forward," Ricciardi said. "This allows us to address some needs we have."
Ricciardi originally hoped to get a player in return for Rios, but the White Sox told him they wouldn't give anyone up unless Toronto paid some of Rios' contract. In the end, the Jays decided that more financial flexibility was better than anyone they could get from Chicago.
"We have other needs," he said. "We need a catcher, and we need a shortstop. Can we fill extra holes, as opposed to holding onto one player?"
When the White Sox claimed Rios last week, the Jays had three choices. They could pull Rios back off waivers, in which case he couldn't be traded for the rest of the season. They could work out a trade with Chicago. Or they could simply let the claim go through, with the White Sox assuming the entire contract.
Eventually, the Jays decided on the third option.
And with that, Ken Williams had his man.