As one of the better players on the trading block, Alex Rios draws other team's scouts to his games. Their job, in so many words, is to follow his every move and see things that wouldn't show up on TV.
If they were only watching on TV on Friday night -- and watching the CSN Chicago broadcast, specifically -- they wouldn't have seen Alex Rios failing to beat out a bobbled double-play ball. They might have heard Steve Stone point out that Rios didn't run, but there are a lot of things a player does on TV that a broadcast won't capture. That's why they're there in person, to see things like this:
For teams that have been tracking him in person for weeks, this wouldn't have been anything new. They would have already heard/read from scouts that Rios hasn't been busting it out of the box on a consistent basis.
Now, how they interpret it is a matter of their judgment. They might consider his effort comparable to other players around baseball, and it won't interfere with their pursuit in any way. They might consider it unusual and detrimental, but chalk it up to slump-based frustration, not a character flaw (his reaction suggests disappointment, not a lack of caring). Some scouts might consider it a red flag, which seems like an overreaction, but possible nevertheless.
Regardless, this has been a known development, and we know it's been known, because Robin Ventura had been asked about it two weeks ago. He just didn't mention anybody by name:
There have been more instances of not running hard on routine grounders than usual, although none were evident Sunday.
‘‘It’s been mentioned,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘But again, any time you get down and you feel like your back is against the wall, the first thing you have to make sure you’re doing is doing everything you can, running hard. Because any time you don’t, it kind of adds to the disgust of not doing well.’’
Rios is the one who put his name on the problem when he dropped his head and shoulders out of the box after hitting what looked like a routine 6-4-3 double play. Had he been running full-speed, he would have beaten it out, allowing a run to cross the plate and the Sox to take a 3-2 lead. Instead, he was out by a couple steps, the game remained tied, and John Danks had no margin for error the following inning.
Everybody noticed it. While CSN Chicago's broadcast never showed it, Stone plainly, flatly said, "Alex didn't run. Simple as that." The Braves' broadcast did show it before the start of the sixth inning, with Chip Caray thanking Rios for the out.
At that point, the play is in the scouting reports, and Rios will be in the news no matter what Ventura does. It's no secret, and it can no longer be handled "quietly," because he'll be asked about it by name.
Here's where it gets unknowable, because the competing interests Ventura has to negotiate are impossible to measure from here. On one hand, if he lets it slide, it's likely less of a headline, and if Rios is gone in 10 days, the whole team may be able to move past it.
On the other hand, Ventura has a clubhouse that's getting younger this season, and a pitching staff that has been abandoned by the offense throughout the season. The lineup struggles to produce runs when it's doing all it can -- it's not in a position to leave runs on the table because of wholly preventable mistakes, especially ones that have been addressed before.
So Ventura chose to bench Rios after the sixth inning, and explained it succinctly afterward:
Ventura wasn't grandstanding, and best as I can tell, Rios will be in the lineup tomorrow with a chance to put it all behind him. Nothing about this suggests an overreaction, but we won't know for sure until we see how Rios responds, but at least one guy monitoring Rios' trade stock didn't think it was a big deal:
Alex Rios was pulled for not hustling. was mad at himself for grounder & sulked. not a big deal. case closed. #chisox— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) July 20, 2013
Unfortunately, Rios wasn't up for giving his reaction, but Danks talked about it a little, and his response caught my eye:
"That’s what we are going to have to do," Danks said when asked about Ventura pulling Rios. "We said all along we are going to play as hard as we can and try to win every game until the season is over. You know, that’s part of being here."
This reminds me of what Ken wrote in his midterm evaluation of pitchers -- if this were a football team (or at least the Raiders), Don Cooper might've punched Jeff Manto by now. Instead, the pitching staff has done a remarkable job of only blaming themselves, and this might be as critical as any pitcher gets about the offense ("We know you're not good, but at least look like you're trying").
When a poor effort changes a game, it involves the whole team, and it's up to Ventura to gauge the clubhouse and act accordingly. He has to manage before he attempts to play GM. Maybe it's an arbitrary overreaction and it'll plant seeds of unrest in an unforeseen way, but Danks' response suggests that players are on board with demanding such accountability.
Since this wasn't a first-time offense, and since the effect of Rios' mistake registered on everybody's radar, it seems like Rios made an example of himself well before Ventura could, which compelled Ventura to acknowledge it with standard managerial action.
And if you don't believe this is standard managerial action, look back to June of 2011:
As for Rios, "(he) don’t run the bases," Guillen said. "That’s why I got him out of the game. It’s not the (first time) it’s happened."
In the middle of a season that Ozzie Guillen mailed in with a vengeance, even he couldn't overlook a critical lack of effort by Rios. And he played Rios when he should've been benched for numerous other performance-related reasons! Looking at it this way, if Ventura failed to respond to Rios' error, he would've failed to show the minimum requirement of interest in leadership. Rios shook it off and has made plenty of quality hustle plays since, so maybe he needs the occasional jolt to break him out of these ruts.
As it stands, I think Ventura handled the situation appropriately, and if the message is received, Rios might be able to improve his reports. For the time being, Rios just reinforced existing information in a very public way, and Ventura's response shouldn't have much of an impact on private dealings. Breaking out of his slump will have a much greater impact on if/where he goes, and doing whatever he can to stay out of double plays seems like a good place to start.