On June 28th, Ozzie Guillen removed Alex Rios from a game in Colorado in the 7th inning because he "didn't like the way he ran the bases" on a flyout. In delivering the standard 'needs more hustle' punishment, Guillen neglected to consider that 58% of Rios' contact this year has gone for grounders or pop-ups, and maybe he was just marveling at his rare accomplishment.
In a twist of fate, replacement centerfielder Brent Lillibridge did some less-than-sprinting toward a bloop single hit to him in the 13th, and Troy Tulowitski raced in to score all the way from 1st base while The Bridge meandered. It surely raised a crippling question to Ozzie Guillen; 'Who do you punish for taking plays off when the whole team is taking the season off?'
Rios has longed been suspected of being a serial lolligagger by the Sox faithful for not much more than his ability to maintain the same reserved, emotionless on-field demeanor he's had his entire career, despite having the worst baseball season of his life. However, that incident aside, Guillen has made no mention of Rios' effort level, and Rios himself has affirmed his commitment and frustration.
Which leaves us with simply the results--which greatly resemble a player who doesn't give a damn given the sheer number of poor defensive decisions, cognitive errors, and flat-out misplays from an 8-year veteran who was once considered an elite defender, and has for the most part staved off drastic physical decline without significantly bulking up.
On Wednesday night, amidst absolutely every other thing going wrong, Rios got a late jump on a blooper in front of him to allow a single in the 1st inning. It was bad, but meh...everything's bad.. The very next play, after snagging a fly ball with the bases loaded, Rios allowed every runner to advance by foolishly trying to throw to 3rd base AND airmailing the cutoff man while doing it, and put a stamp on the evening in the 3rd inning when he turned a Mark Teixiera sinking liner into a 2-RBI triple.
The game was already lost by then, but that certainly was the most stupid-looking moment.
Of course, this was just the next step on from his back-to-back games in the Boston series where he returned balls from centerfield as if he thought someone had called timeout (this also resulted in a run scoring from 1st base on a triple), and the July 25th game against Detroit where two popups dropped in short centerfield as Rios did something less than assert his presence with authority. What I'm saying is, spying Rios doing something bad in the field has not been particularly rare, not for a while.
Alex has compiled a ghastly 42 wRC+, and all financial obligation to continue to play Rios has been removed, and a replacement has been provided. It's really hard to imagine a $12 million player under contract through 2014 with less leverage. He's begged to be replaced all year, and even now Ozzie has stuck with him plenty, and started him straight away when Konerko's injury offered the chance.
Guillen has shown himself--especially this season--to be willing to stick with veterans with positive track records through some horrific lean periods, so perhaps Ozzie is patiently waiting for Rios to reverse every trend he's had for the last calendar year, or just waiting for Konerko's return so he can hope De Aza's 4-hit night is the start of a hot streak that last through 350 consecutive starts.
Still, Guillen begin as a manager who adores the concept of the fundamentally sound Twins, who entered his job preaching smallball and execution, it's puzzling that Rios' descent from the starting center fielder role--if it ever comes--has been so graceful. Other than hating strikeouts, and certainly not stressing walks, it's hard to grab what type of performance alienates a player from Guillen anymore. A manager having his player's backs no matter what can certainly work, which is hard to remember this season.
The White Sox are 6.5 games out after being bulldozed by the Yankees on Wednesday. Many more like this one and the White Sox will be just as well-served trying to figure out how to live with Rios for three more seasons. Maybe Ozzie thinks before he speaks a lot more than anyone thinks.
Maybe we should just wait for that book.