By now you’ve heard the rumors, the Tampa Bay Rays have had discussions with free-agent outfielder Colby Rasmus. Jon Morosi was the first to break the news via Twitter, adding Tampa Bay could use Rasmus’ bat if they trade Ben Zobrist. You can see the tweet below.
#Rays have had discussions with free agent Colby Rasmus, source says. They could add outfield bat, especially if they trade Zobrist.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 5, 2015
Morosi never implied the intent to sign Rasmus, and the odds are things won’t progress further than the initial talks. After all Rasmus is reportedly seeking more money than the Rays would be comfortable dishing out. Furthermore, Rasmus comes with baggage associated with character issues, his overall production is average at best, and it doesn’t seem wise to replace an infielder with an outfielder — assuming the Rays’ interest is predicated on the trade of Zobrist… That is, unless Matt Silverman is quietly trying to deal another left-handed outfielder, David DeJesus.
In the pre-offseason predictions, the contract for Rasmus ranged anywhere from one year and $9 million, to four years and $50 million (see Heyman, Cameron, and FanGraphs crowdsourcing). Each extreme seems a bit silly — it would be plausible to assume that Rasmus is seeking a three-year $33-$36 million contract; well outside of what the Rays would be willing to offer. There is a school of thought that since Rasmus would like to find an environment in which he can thrive, he may be willing to cut a deal with an interested team — an idea that becomes all the more intriguing when you consider that he is player from a former Kevin Cash team.
Still, as Jeff Todd (MLB Trade Rumors) opines,
Two years seem undesirable from Rasmus’s perspective, though he could field such offers.) One other factor to bear in mind is that Rasmus should be able to take his time seeing how interest develops in a multi-year scenario, fairly confident that a solid one-year option will be around at the end of the day.
Ultimately, I believe Rasmus will prioritize finding the right fit over maxing his earnings, whether on a one-year or multi-year deal. I do find a make-good contract to be the likelier outcome, and think that Rasmus will be able to reach $12MM on a one-year deal. But I would not be surprised if he ultimately scores a three-year pact.
There are other factors when talking about Rasmus.
Rasmus comes with his own set of character issues, including disagreements with coaches, and a father who tends to overstep his boundaries, causing his own trouble with staff. Then again, similar to former Ray BJ Upton, Rasmus’ relaxed approach has ruffled many a feather, and his critics might be the biggest instigators in the scheme of things. In a lengthy interview with TSN, Rasmus spoke about his approach to the game,
I think it’s just my nature. I’m a little more relaxed. I’ve always been that way. I’ve always had people wanting to push me and prod me to do better and to try to light a fire under me. With that happening as I’ve grown up it’s kind of let my flame out a little bit and I’ve lost a little bit of that drive sometimes just because so many people are always just poking and prodding at me and I felt at times like an animal at the zoo. You know, you just keep poking at it until one day they bite back at you. It’s just my nature. I think it comes off to people like I don’t care. In the outfield I run smooth and people have always told me that I run smooth but at the same time they think I’m not trying at times when really I’m playing as hard as I can and playing through pain a lot.
The Rays skipper knows a lot about Rasmus, after all he has first-hand experience with the left-handed outfielder. It isn’t a stretch to assume that Cash is one of the biggest proponents pushing for any discussions. Could the loose environment in Tampa Bay be one in which he would thrive? Yet one can’t help but wonder how the implied baggage may affect the clubhouse — would the Rays be willing take the risk?
Performance wise, Drew Fairservice offered an excellent synopsis of Colby Rasmus in an August 2014 piece for FanGraphs, calling him “an enigma.” On one hand, Rasmus is a former top-tier prospect who hit 23 home runs and posted 4.8 WAR in 120 games with Toronto in 2013. He looked like the future star the Blue Jays traded for at the 2011 trade deadline. Yet he put together a hot and cold 2014, which resembled the forgettable seasons sandwiched in between his 2010 breakout campaign with St. Louis and the aforementioned 2013 season.
Credit where it’s due, the 4 and 4.8 WAR seasons in 2010 and 2013 made Rasmus look like a superstar on the cusp, yet there has been lack of consistency, and he has otherwise performed just above replacement level. In all fairness, it’s kind of hard to argue with a .438 SLG over the span of his career (.501 in 2013, .448 in 2014) and a meaty .225 ISO in 2013 (.192 overall)… and that .356 BABIP in 2013 would be pretty impressive in the middle of the lineup. In the end however, Rasmus depreciated himself with a very high K% (33% in 2013), a low BB% (7.7% in 2013), and a below average OBP (.287 in 2013).
Finally, though linked with Zobrist, the acquisition of Colby would, presumably, be about more than just simply dealing Ben. The outfield looks set, rotating between Desmond Jennings, the recently acquired Steven Souza, Wil Myers’ heir apparent Kevin Kiermaier, and David DeJesus. In this model, the fourth outfielder would be the DH. Removing Zobrist would do nothing to open up a spot in the outfield for Rasmus. Likewise, Brandon Guyer is the right-handed (bench-depth) compliment to the lefties (batting, or otherwise) on the roster — DeJesus and Kiermaier. I cannot for the life of me see the Rays replacing an infielder with an outfielder, and the possibility of replacing — or platooning, for that matter — either Souza, Kiermaier, or Jennings with Rasmus is slim to none.
That potentially leaves DeJesus in limbo. I’ll let Danny Russell (DRaysBay) speak to that,
The Rays are constantly juggling trade scenarios for pretty much every player on the team, particularly in the off-season and at the trade deadline mid-season. It’s possible the Rays simply see a back-up plan in Rasmus if another outfielder is dealt from the roster – like another lefty in the outfield mix, David DeJesus (comparison here). Rasmus is younger and probably cheaper, but far more volatile at the plate and (historically) in the clubhouse.
It goes without saying, acquiring Rasmus would be an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle — a short-term proposition; another risk/reward situation we’ve grown accustomed to in Tampa Bay. If the coaching staff can help tweak things on both sides of the plate, the Rays could acquire a player who, as Fairservice put it, could develop into a player the likes of B.J. Upton, Curtis Granderson, and Carlos Gomez. I just don’t see Silverman taking this much of a risk.