More on the Edwin Rios Signing: What the Cubs Like, Why the Dodgers Moved on, Possible Role
Whenever there’s a surprise signing like Edwin Rios last week, it takes a little time to think through the implications for the team, the player, and the roster. Why was this a guy that the Cubs decided needed a big league contract at this time of year, on a roster that has so much non-star depth already? That’s not rhetorical or a barb, mind you. It’s really what I was thinking through, and I don’t know that the answers are all that complex in this case. I think the Cubs just liked the bat, and he was available.
Rios, announced as an infielder in the signing, has mostly been a third baseman but can also handle first, and also probably spends time at DH if he makes the team. He really is like a younger (28) lefty version of Patrick Wisdom, right down to the power-over-contact profile (though he has a little less power, and a little more contact). For his big league career, he’s hit .219/.299/.492/112 wRC+, with a 32.0% K rate, huge exit velocity, and huge barrel rates (15.5% in the big leagues – that’s a lot).
There is potential upside there, as Rios dealt with ill-timed injuries and roster crowding, and maybe with some new eyes and some playing time, he could break out. Though you never want to bet against the Dodgers being the team that couldn’t make it happen for a talented player or couldn’t scout properly. (Cubs have a whole lot of that on the roster this year!)
Ultimately, I think mostly the Cubs wanted Rios because they saw an underutilized power bat with a lot of swing and miss – a profile with which they’d had success sanding down the rough edges – who has a minor league option left. I don’t know that Rios was snagged with an eye on him filling any SPECIFIC role. His was just a bat that the Cubs liked.
So signing him was just a question of a 40-man roster spot – his salary is reportedly just $1 million – and if he doesn’t make the team right away, he can be optioned to Triple-A Iowa to open the season. The Cubs get another lefty power bat – remember, they never did find that guy – and they get the chance to see how he looks, working with their guys, over the next couple months. Maybe he shows out and is a clear bench option, or gets some run at third base in a platoon role, or bumps Eric Hosmer at first base, or hits too well not to get some DH opportunities. You never know. Get a guy you like in the door, and then figure out the rest later.
Part of what the Cubs liked, no doubt, is that Rios’s is another power bat that figures to play very well at Wrigley Field:
And Rios’s style – forget his handedness for a moment – pairs quite well with a guy like Patrick Wisdom. Rios thrives up in the zone, while Wisdom, as we all know, struggles up there:
One more also? I’m going to assume Rios has a lot of familiarity with new Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly, who was a minor league hitting coach in the Dodgers’ system when Rios would’ve been a minor leaguer there. That was probably something of a factor.
OK, but you’re still wondering, if this is a guy who has an option left and who might be a quality source of versatile lefty power, why would the Dodgers dump him for nothing?
Well, according to the team at the time, the non-tender decision was all about roster space and profile as compared to what the Dodgers already had available. “It was just a fit right now for him,” Dodgers president Andrew Friedman said after Rios was non-tendered. “Helping get into a spot where he can get more opportunity, I think that was really important to him at his age.” (Though I’m sure they tried to trade him before then, so at the time, no team wanted him at the cost of a 40-man spot and a projected $1.4 million in arbitration.)
There were assuredly some injury questions at play for the Dodgers, too, as Rios had missed a huge chunk of 2022 with a serious (but non-surgery) hamstring tear, and missed most of 2021 after shoulder surgery.
Here’s how Jed Hoyer framed the idea of signing Rios after the Dodgers let him go (LA Times): “The Dodgers have been so deep that it’s been hard to break into a lineup and he never played consistently. Hopefully the fact that the Dodgers were so good and so deep, that kind of limited his opportunities and hopefully we can take advantage of that.”