Chicago White Sox: Can Alex Rios Rebound and Earn His $12 Million in 2012?

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Chicago White Sox: Can Alex Rios Rebound and Earn His $12 Million in 2012?
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Alex Rios needs to toss aside the poor performance of a career-worst season in 2011.

Chicago White Sox center fielder Alex Rios has the look of a five-tool baseball player. He has the contract to match.

The problem lies when you wind him up and turn him loose on a baseball field.

Rios, along with new acquisition Adam Dunn, was the poster boy for a White Sox team that had the big-money pedigree but underperformed their way to a third-place finish in 2011. Nary a day would go by that didn't feature a reminder of the folly of Rios' contract.

After his solid 2010 season, expectations were for a similar performance from Rios in the middle of a potent South Side offensive attack. The reality was that of the Murderer's Row some envisioned, only Paul Konerko (and to a lesser extent the recently departed Carlos Quentin) actually delivered the goods at the plate.

Only Dunn's monumental failure in 2011 kept fans from focusing their boos solely on Rios.

Rios posted career lows in average (.227), on-base percentage (.265) and slugging percentage (.348) in a full season. He also stole just 11 bases, down from 34 the season before and a career low.

For his worst season as a professional, Rios was paid his highest salary of $12 million. The White Sox are on the hook for the same pay rate in 2012, plus two additional years at $12.5 million before Rios' contract can be bought out.

Much was made when Toronto placed Rios on waivers back in 2009, a season after he signed the seven-year, $69 million extension the White Sox picked up when Kenny Williams rolled the dice. Rios was slumping, but was still hitting .262 with 14 homers through August 10 of that year. He had been around the .300 mark in his previous three seasons and was just 28.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Rios rebounded from a 2009 that saw him hit .199 in the last two months for the White Sox. Could 2012 see a similar turnaround?

Rios hit .199 for the remainder of 2009 before rebounding the next season and regressing in 2011.

Williams took a big risk investing in Rios. So far, the return hasn't justified the move. Moving Rios at this point in the deal will be even more difficult that it was for the Blue Jays before Chicago bailed them out.

At present salary, Rios is going to get playing time despite a player like Alejandro De Aza playing well enough to earn the spot in center over the last two months of last season. If Rios gets off to a slow start in April, will new manager Robin Ventura keep writing him on his lineup card as Ozzie Guillen did?

A strong return toward his career numbers could be the impetus for a White Sox squad that competes in the Central Division in 2012. Unfortunately, the only guarantee regarding Rios is that he will continue to cash some large checks this summer.

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