Exactly three years after he was claimed off waivers by the White Sox, Alex Rios was hitting fourth against the Oakland As on Friday night.
Rios, who most teammates believe was an All-Star snub in July, takes the place in the lineup of team captain Paul Konerko, who was placed on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion.
Its the first time this season the former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder will hit cleanup and Robin Venturas selection of Rios to replace Konerko is more validation a risky move made by the White Sox front office has paid off.
When the White Sox claimed him on Aug. 10, 2009, Rios -- who is signed through 2014 and has a 13.5 million club option for 2015 -- was owed roughly 60 million in guaranteed money, the entirety of which was picked up by the club. Rios had struggled with the Blue Jays and continued after his arrival, hitting .199 over the final two months of the 2009 season.
This season, Rios is hitting a team-high .318 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs and has often been mentioned by teammates and coaches as a player critical to the teams success because of his all-around play.
This is the player we were hopeful we were getting, assistant general manager Rick Hahn said Friday.
Rios admits he never saw the move coming.
An All-Star for the Blue Jays in 2006 and 2007, Rios signed a seven-year deal worth 69.835 million only four days into the 2008 season. He believed he would remain with Toronto well into the future.
But in 2009, Rios OPS slipped to .744 with the Jays, more than 100 points below his All-Star performance in 2007.
I didnt expect it, Rios said. I had thought I was going to spend the whole time there.
The White Sox had spoken to the Blue Jays about Rios prior to the July 31, 2009 non-waiver trade deadline, a team source said. The sides explored numerous trade scenarios with Toronto eating some salary in exchange for prospects or the White Sox footing the entire bill with no players going back.
When Rios was placed on waivers, the White Sox had an idea the Blue Jays would allow him to walk and already had the approval of owner Jerry Reinsdorf to add the contract.
We hoped when we made the move was he was going to be a long-term answer for us at one of our outfield positions, Hahn said.
Rios was asked to play center field when he first joined the White Sox and responded well. He hit .284 with 21 homers and 88 RBIs in 2010 and provided above-average defense in center.
Rios overall production slipped in 2011 both in the field and at the plate as the White Sox endured a disappointing 79-83 campaign.
This season, a move to right field has re-energized Rios. He has again provided good defense and is on pace to reach career-high totals in average, home runs, RBIs, runs and slugging percentage.
He's come in motivated and has been the same every day, Ventura said. He comes in and he does a lot of different stuff for us. First, he's really good in right field, made a lot of great defensive plays for us. Offensively, he just always seems to be having great at-bats. Steals bases, he does a lot of different things for us that are positive. Anybody would want a guy like him on your team, because he's been that good this year.
Rios hopes his invitation to play for the White Sox lasts through 2014 and perhaps even 2015. He also knows the waiver claim was just part of the business of baseball.
(The waiver) is part of the game, part of the job, Rios said. I have had a great time here and hopefully I can keep enjoying the rest of my contract here.