With barely an hour to spare before the first pitch against the Yankees, Rios was informed that the Jays were sending him to the White Sox, who were awarded a waiver claim on the outfielder on Friday. Toronto agreed to part with Rios without receiving anything in return except a little more financial flexibility.
Rios knew such a move was a possibility, but he did not believe it was going to happen.
"I heard the rumors, but I thought I was going to stay here," Rios said. "It's a little emotional to say goodbye to your friends, to the people that you came up with, but you have to move on. It's another team, and I just have to keep doing what I was doing here -- go out there and play hard and try to help the new team win."
Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi delivered the news and said Rios was caught by surprise.
"He's been a Blue Jay his whole life," Ricciardi said. "He's a good kid and I just think he was shocked. He probably thought he was going to stay here for the rest of his life. Unfortunately, things change and the game changes."
By giving Rios away to the White Sox, the Blue Jays will save just shy of $61 million through the 2014 season -- not including the $13.5 million club option for '15 within his contract. This past winter, Toronto was hit hard by the poor economic climate and trimmed its payroll down to roughly $80 million in an effort to help the organization's bottom line.
Going forward, the Blue Jays may need to reduce their payroll even further, though Ricciardi reiterated on Monday that he was not under any orders to shed salary. Even so, the organization showed a willingness to explore trading ace Roy Halladay last month, and the club dealt third baseman Scott Rolen to the Reds at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Complicating matters is the fact that center fielder Vernon Wells, who has underperformed this season and has battled injuries in each of the past two years, is scheduled to make $107 million between 2010-14. Prior to the All-Star break, the Jays also released struggling reliever B.J. Ryan, who is still on the books for $15 million through next season.
After calling a news conference a half-hour before game time on Monday, Ricciardi said he did not want Toronto fans to think the latest move with Rios was a sign that the club was slashing its payroll. Ricciardi insisted that by relieving the Jays of Rios' contract, the team will have a better chance of addressing other needs.
Ricciardi said that allowing Rios to be claimed by the Sox was not strictly a salary dump.
"That's not the message that we're trying to send here," Ricciardi said. "What we are trying to send is it enables us to have more financial flexibility. I think what's happened since we did his contract is the game has changed in so many ways economically in the last year. This allows us to get out from under a contract and enables us to hopefully to do more to address our club going forward. It gives us more resources to do some of those things."
Rios, 28, was signed to a seven-year extension worth nearly $70 million in April of last season. The right fielder -- likely to patrol center field for the White Sox -- is still owed roughly $2 million this season and is scheduled to make $9.7 million in 2010. Over the 2011-14 campaigns, Rios' salary jumps to between $12 million to $12.5 million annually.
The Blue Jays handed Rios the extension after he hit .297 with 24 home runs and 85 RBIs in a breakout campaign in 2007, when he made the American League All-Star team and took part in the Home Run Derby. This season, Rios has fallen below expectations offensively, batting .264 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs in 108 games.
Rios, who was selected by Toronto with the 19th overall pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, never seemed to live up to his potential with the Jays, but Ricciardi said that was not the motivation behind this move.
"When we gave him the deal, he was a two-time All-Star and was coming off a great year," Ricciardi said. "Alex is just not having a good year. I think he's a good player who's not having a good year. I think he's going to be a very good player as he continues to go forward. He's still in the prime of his career, and I would be surprised if he wasn't playing in an All-Star Game again."
The Blue Jays and White Sox discussed moving Rios prior to the Trade Deadline, but the two sides were not able to reach an agreement. Ricciardi knew there was a chance that the White Sox might put in a claim on Rios this month, and, when Chicago did just that, the two sides again talked about possible trades.
Ricciardi said one issue was that, if the Sox were going to send any players to the Blue Jays, Chicago wanted Toronto to throw in some money for Rios' contract. To Ricciardi, that defeated the purpose, which was to free up cash in order to address other needs. Jays catcher Rod Barajas and shortstop Marco Scutaro are free agents after this season, for example.
"For us to eat money and not get players that we thought we wanted," Ricciardi said, "I think it would've been counterproductive. We weren't able to get some of the players that we would've liked. From that standpoint, we just said the best thing in this case is to get the financially flexibility from every dollar."
As Rios prepared to leave Yankee Stadium, he sounded ready for the new opportunity.
"I think it's going to be fun. It's just a new start," Rios said. "I don't know what the reasons were, but I just have to move on and go out there and play hard for the White Sox."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.