MESA, Ariz. —
Edwin Ríos isn’t great with names. It’s a problem that surfaced over the last few days, since joining the Chicago Cubs on a one-year contract.
“I’m meeting a lot of people,” Ríos said, “and kind of meeting them twice because I introduce myself and forget their name.”
Ríos didn’t expect to have to learn so many names when he reported for spring training in 2023. He had envisioned another spring with the Dodgers, the only major league organization he had known, to prepare to help them compete for another World Series title. That assumption was torpedoed in November when the Dodgers non-tendered him to close an odd and frustrating year.
On Friday, Ríos finally signed with a club, agreeing to a $1-million deal with Chicago two months after Cody Bellinger, another player non-tendered by the Dodgers in November, joined the Cubs. Ríos is expected to log playing time primarily as the designated hitter, with first base and third base as options.
“The Dodgers have been so deep that it’s been hard to break into a lineup and he never played consistently,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “Hopefully the fact that the Dodgers were so good and so deep, that kind of limited his opportunities and hopefully we can take advantage of that.”
Even with limited chances, the 28-year-old Ríos had seemingly found a home with Los Angeles. He made his major league debut in 2019 as part of a rookie wave that included Alex Verdugo and Matt Beaty, posting a 1.010 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 56 plate appearances.
Ríos broke camp on the Dodgers’ opening day roster each of the next three years. He was a valuable contributor in 2020, but got off to a disastrous start in 2021, going four for 51, before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in May.
Last season, he appeared to be back on track. He was second on the club with seven home runs, 36 strikeouts, and a .793 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 92 plate appearances in spot opportunities as a designated hitter. He produced just about as expected — with considerable power and a high strikeout rate.
Then, when the calendar flipped to June, he strained his right hamstring, was placed on the injured list and wasn’t seen in Los Angeles again.
“I’ve been a Dodger my whole life so sometimes you know there’s a possibility but when it actually happens it’s almost like, ‘Damn.’”
— Edwin Ríos, on getting cut by the Dodgers
The injury, Ríos said, was worse than initially thought. He was transferred to the 60-day injured list June 22, but he anticipated a return to the majors. He began a rehab assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City in late July. Three weeks later — after batting .302 with an .840 OPS in 14 games — he was activated from the injured list.
But instead of being placed on the major league roster, he was optioned to Oklahoma City.
“It was really frustrating,” Ríos said. “It sucked just watching from the sidelines and how the year ended. But it is what it is.”
The decision didn’t completely shock Ríos because the Dodgers acquired Joey Gallo — a left-handed hitter with power and a high strikeout rate — at the trade deadline two weeks earlier. Still, it stung.
“I was like, ‘When this is all over I’m going to go up,’ and that didn’t happen,” Ríos said of his rehab assignment. “Once I got the news that I was getting optioned, it was kind of a punch in the gut. So I got a little frustrated, I would say. Didn’t start hitting as well. I think it was more of a mental thing, kind of like just expecting to go back up and stuff like that.”
Ríos never made it back up. He watched the Dodgers win a franchise-record 111 games only to get bounced from the postseason in four games. A month later, the organization made him a free agent. The Dodgers, according to people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, didn’t believe Ríos was adequately developing his skill set beyond his power.
“That’s all I had ever known,” Ríos said. “I’ve been a Dodger my whole life so sometimes you know there’s a possibility but when it actually happens it’s almost like, ‘Damn.’”
Ríos said he signed so late in the offseason because he wanted the right major league deal. He was invited to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic but declined the offer, wanting to focus on acclimating himself to a new organization.
There are familiar faces. He’s “chopped it up” with Bellinger. Zach McKinstry is another former Dodger in the clubhouse. He said he has a relationship with Dansby Swanson while playing against him over the years.
It’s not where he expected to be. He didn’t think he’d have to learn so many names. The Dodgers were home. But the Dodgers moved on and he has a point to prove.
“If I can stay healthy and stay on the field,” Ríos said, “everything else will take care of itself.”