For the past six weeks, as his name bounced around the rumor mill as a potential trade target for a contending team, Alex Rios has tried to keep his worries limited to baseball.
The trading period passes Sunday. Only then will Rios be freed from the looming possibility of a trade, though there hasn’t been much recent talk as a sprained ankle, a bruised thumb and a prolonged skid have made him less desirable to contending teams.
Rios, though, won’t necessarily be freed from all uncertainties. He has the potential for some contract limbo this off-season, and this week at Safeco Field, his clubhouse neighbor is his potential replacement in 2015.
Rios and Michael Choice are back together in the same company again, as they were over the off-season when Choice was acquired, many assumed, to replace Rios after this season.
But it’s not that simple anymore.
The $14 million club option the Rangers hold on Rios doesn’t look like the bargain it did two months ago when he was tearing up the American League. Choice doesn’t look like the impact bat he did six months ago, though as a rookie he is entitled to slide around on the big league learning curve.
Both were in the starting lineup Tuesday night against Seattle. For Choice, it was his first big league game since an early-July demotion to Triple A Round Rock to punch the reset button and try to figure out what made his first-round, high-upside swing disappear.
Maybe he found it in the minors, as he believes he did, and his final-month performance will make the decision on Rios, one of seemingly 1,000 decisions general manager Jon Daniels is facing, an even more difficult one.
That is due in October. Considering that the Rangers were a bat short entering the season and have pitching issues to address this off-season, to cast aside a dependable veteran bat isn’t the right move, no matter how well Choice does down the stretch.
“I don’t have a feel for what’s going to happen,” said Rios, who is open to a return. “It’s something that the management has to decide if I’ll be back or not. This is a team that is going to have the same chances of being successful that we had at the beginning of this year.”
Rios hasn’t looked like an impact bat of late. He was batting .159 in his past 22 games and .222 in his past 58 games as his average has dived from .335 to .283, the same neighborhood of his career average entering the season.
He also hasn’t hit for any power — he’s the first to admit that — but he steadfastly believes that a few swing tweaks can put him back in the 20-homer range. He also steadfastly denies that the ankle and thumb injuries are contributing to his woes.
Rios hasn’t had protection in the lineup at the times this season when he has batted fifth. The mounting injuries have put him mostly in the No. 3 spot, where manager Ron Washington believes he isn’t comfortable.
Whatever, said Rios.
“I’m not alarmed,” he said. “It’s something that can be addressed with a few minor adjustments and I’ll be back on track.”
Choice, meanwhile, stripped down his swing while in Round Rock and made several adjustments to get his swing back where it was when he was climbing through Oakland’s farm system as one of the A’s top prospects.
The 10th overall pick from UT Arlington in the 2010 draft, Choice also needed to clear his head after sinking into a funk so badly that he didn’t know how to climb out of it.
Instead of changing his swing and approach as he did while fading away with the Rangers, Choice committed to his mechanics and approach at Triple A. Progress wasn’t easy to see until the past week, when he went 7 for 18 in his final five games.
“A lot of it is just understanding how to put yourself in a position to be successful for you,” Choice said. “I had to reinvent what’s going to help me have as much success as I can have.
“The stats will be on the board, but for me I’m taking the approach of starting from scratch and it’s a whole new season.”
His 32-game season could catapult him back into a position to be a regular contributor in 2015 and make Daniels’ decision on Rios much more difficult. More power to him, and to the Rangers if he does.
But there still needs to be room for Rios.