The Toronto Blue Jays season is a two-part story. What began as a pleasant surprise quickly descended into a lucid, waking nightmare. Two Blue Jays’ outfielders heading into free agency embody each of those characteristics. While Melky Cabrera is putting together a brilliant platform season before heading to free-agency, Colby Rasmus seems to have spent all the good will he earned with his strong 2013 campaign.
Rasmus, as you probably know, was terrific last year. He hit 23 home runs and posted nearly 5 WAR in just 120 games. He looked every bit the future star the Blue Jays thought they had when they acquired him at the 2011 trade deadline. Unfortunately for Rasmus, his 2014 looks much more like his forgettable seasons in the woods following his 2010 breakout as a 23-year-old in St. Louis.
The soft-spoken Jays center fielder has long been a magnet for criticism and scrutiny, due in no small part to his frank father/coach/mentor and to the personality clashes with his former manager and Hall-of-Famer, Tony La Russa. On the field, Rasmus is a devoted tinkerer at the plate and the author of wildly divergent periods of production.
Rasmus has essentially played his way out of a qualifying offer with Toronto and his interest in leaving his team is a poorly-guarded secret on the Blue Jays beat. As he heads into life as a free agent, it’s hard to know what the future holds for Rasmus — or to even accurately pin down the type of player he’s become.
Broadly put, the 28-year-old outfielder is a league-average defender with above-average power and below-average contact skills. His walk rate is on the decline and he increasingly looks incapable of handling left-handed pitching or playing 150 games a year.
At some point in 2013, Rasmus seemed to simply sell everything out for power. He looked to yank fastballs at every opportunity. He even crept way up in the batters box, seeming to dare opposing pitchers to throw their heat. This made him vulnerable to back-foot sliders, decent changeups from right-handed pitchers and anything up in the zone.
It’s a strange mix, a package that should be more valuable than it is, a player with skills in demand who also counts a strange mix of players of his statistical peers.
Colby as B.J. Upton
B.J. Upton is the owner of one of the least-desirable contracts in baseball. It’s a deal the Atlanta Braves surely wish they could do over. As players, Upton and Rasmus have a lot in common: They’re both high strikeout players with nice pop who hit free-agency at a relatively young age.
Upton is a $75 million red flag for any team that might look to sign Rasmus in the off-season. Perhaps another season on par with his 2013 campaign might put him into position for this type of payday, but Rasmus can likely only dream of a commitment of this size.
Colby as Chris Young
Chris Young is the version of Colby Rasmus that should keep him up at night. Young was a fine center fielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks right up until he wasn’t. Blame it on a severe shoulder injury. Blame it on the shorter shelf life for this type of player, but Young’s career arc went from “promising” to “tragic” in a hurry.
Through their age-27 seasons, Young and Rasmus produced at similar clips in similar ways, when we consider league-wide shifts in walk and strikeout rates.
|Chris Young||3588||132||112||10.0 %||22.7 %||.198||.329||95||16.2||14.4|
|Colby Rasmus||3018||114||28||8.6 %||25.0 %||.191||.326||102||14.4||13.2|
Young is currently a free agent, released by the Mets in the midst of a one-year, $7.2 million contract. Is Rasmus due to fall off such a steep cliff?
Colby as Carlos Gomez
Hey, so here’s a stretch! Carlos Gomez didn’t become the MVP-candidate we know and love today until after he signed a reasonably-priced contract extension with Milwaukee. After years of coaches forcing him to slap the ball, the Brewers freed Gomez to swing for the fences. The strategy has produced great results. Gomez doesn’t walk much but his power and ability to make hard contact offsets his strikeout rate. He’s also a superlative outfielder and base stealer, with many highlight-reel and game-saving catches to his name.
Rasmus has long been empowered to bring Gomez’s approach to the game, he simply hasn’t had the results to back it up. Probably because he isn’t as talented.
Colby as Michael Saunders
Injury prone? Check. Middling results? Check. Made big-league debut in 2009 and plays similar position? Check, check.
Michael Saunders hasn’t shown himself to be an everyday big leaguer so far in his career, as injury and poor performance kept him off the field for huge chunks of the past five seasons. When he’s on the field and he’s healthy, he’s about as good a player as Rasmus. This is not a particularly flattering comparison for either player, though Rasmus at least has more reps at the big league level. Over the past three seasons, they’re close to identical players.
Colby as Curtis Granderson
Another player with better results than Rasmus, though one who plays with a similar style. At 28, Curtis Granderson put together a strong season in his final year as a Tiger before a trade sent him to New York. As a Yankee, he blossomed into a Three True Outcome star, hitting 40 home runs twice and producing the best years of his career.
Perhaps this is a path Rasmus could follow, working under the tutelage of an understanding hitting coach in a situation ideally suited to his skills and to his swing. As noted above, Rasmus has made countless changes and adjustments to his swing and approach during his time in Toronto, none of which truly unlocked the potential so many saw in the sweet-swinging outfielder.
Colby as Jim Edmonds
There are fewer left-handed, power-hitting center fielders than you think. Jim Edmonds was a considerably better hitter than Rasmus through his age-28 season (120 wRC+ compared to Rasmus’ 102) and then he turned himself into a borderline Hall-of-Famer. His walk rate shot up and his power went through the roof. Maybe a change of scenery could benefit Rasmus the same way? Perhaps some magic beans and a coalition of deities coming together could make this pipe dream a reality.
As the Blue Jays fumble their way through the final month of the season, they have many questions to answer as they look to 2015. Will Rasmus be a part of their future? Replacing a player with obvious flaws should be easy but he’s an unusual sum of some strange parts. There aren’t many center fielders in recent memory with his skill set, how the free-agent market values those skills should be fascinating to watch.
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