Is Rasmus Worth An Extension?

The Blue Jays acquisition of Colby Rasmus last season was considered a steal by many. Though the team surrendered five players in companion deals with the White Sox and Cardinals, Alex Anthopolous brought in a young, cost-controlled centerfielder for three relievers, a starter that was never really meant for them in the first place, and Mark Teahen‘s contract. Rasmus was worth the risk as a change-of-scenery candidate, as he had proven himself productive in spite of well-publicized spats with his manager.

However, since joining the Jays last summer, Rasmus has failed to live up to the production standards he set with the Cardinals, and he has realistically been one of the least productive players in that span. Over the last two calendar years, Rasmus has the 13th-lowest wOBA, 14th-lowest wRC+, and 18th-lowest WAR out of the 115 qualified players.

Which is why the Blue Jays supposed focus on negotiating a contract extension isn’t immediately regarded as a given, an obvious move for a team taking important steps towards winning baseball’s toughest division. The Jays have been fiscally responsible in the Anthopolous era and have locked up a number of core players recently. Richard Griffin is reporting that Rasmus is on deck in this regard, and it seems that many within the organization value his contributions. It’s just tough to determine what those contributions are, as Rasmus hasn’t hit well, hasn’t fielded well, and with four years of service time under his belt at the end of this season, he isn’t likely to come cheap anymore.

Keeping Rasmus around for another couple of seasons is a decision with some merit, for sure, but the Jays need to be careful here. Rasmus hasn’t shown any true sign of turning the corner or improving his productivity, and he simply isn’t the same player that topped 4 WAR with the 2010 Cardinals.

Rasmus played in 385 games with the Cardinals from 2009-11. He tallied 8.4 WAR over those 2.5 seasons and was a solid, young outfielder. He wasn’t the best fielder up the middle but he had decent instincts. On top of that, he could hit, and it appeared as if his patience was improving. Then he was traded to the Blue Jays and started floundering. Over 35 games with the 2011 Jays, Rasmus hit .173/.201/.316. He posted a 3.6% walk rate and 27.9% strikeout rate, after respective 11.7% and 19.9% rates with the Cardinals that very same season. He had a .225 wOBA and 34 wRC+ over his small sample of games and finished with -0.5 WAR for his efforts.

The struggles were chalked up mostly to small sample sizes and the adjustment period in switching leagues. He was still just 25 years old and had clearly shown himself more productive. Though he stunk down the stretch there were high hopes entering the 2012 season. Fast-forward to present day and Rasmus hasn’t come close to proving those in his corner right. Though his 2012 line is better than his 35 games with the 2011 Jays, that isn’t saying much. In fact, his 2012 line is almost identical to his overall 2011 line: he hit .225/.298/.391, with a .302 wOBA and 90 wRC+ last season, and has a .228/.292/.421 line, a .303 wOBA and an 89 wRC+ this season.

His power is still there, but his patience isn’t, and this is his second straight season with a BABIP in the .260s. The lower BABIP made some more sense last season, as he hit line drives just 11% of the time with the Jays, and finished with a 16% rate well below his career 19-20% rate to that point. This season, however, Rasmus has the highest line drive and GB/FB rates of his career. His infield fly rates over the last two years are key contributors as well, as he has a 14.5% rate since 2011, compared to a 5.2% rate over the two preceding years. Rasmus isn’t hitting the ball as squarely, and has less of a chance of reaching base as a result.

Potentially more problematic is that his struggles aren’t all related to the early season. This isn’t a case where he performed terribly in April-July and has been tearing the cover off the ball in August and September. Since July, he has posted monthly wOBAs of .279, .226 and .301. His wRC+ marks over the same three months are 72, 36 and 87. He has hit well below average in four of the season’s six months. In June, his best month of the season, he barely walked but hit eight home runs in 124 plate appearances.

If the Jays have already decided that they intend to keep Rasmus in Toronto until after the 2014 season, when he reaches free agency, then working out a two-year deal makes some sense. They can avoid the arbitration process over the next two seasons and hope for the best. Beyond that, however, one has to question if Rasmus is even worth having one or more of his free agent years bought out. By the end of the 2014 season, he will be 28 years old and about to exit what should have been his prime. And he has shown no evidence of being worth a multi-year extension into his free agency seasons with his production since joining the Jays.

Locking up core players at reasonable rates is key for a team in the Blue Jays position, but Rasmus’s performance over the last 1.5 seasons — 0.8 WAR in 166 games — calls into question his status as a core member of the team. A two-year deal, with a third-year club option makes sense, as it gives the Jays a bit more time to see if Rasmus can turn that corner, but right now he isn’t worth a four- or five-year deal unless the Jays get a substantial discount on those free agent years. Rasmus may be more comfortable in Toronto than St. Louis, but he hasn’t played like it, and we now have two straight seasons that go against the belief that he is a key cog for a hopeful contender.



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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


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Bret
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Bret
3 years 11 months ago

What’s weird about Rasmus’ season is that it started to follow that pattern you suggested.

He started off the year hitting well, but running into a lot of BABIP bad luck. Then he did fall into some struggles, but started scorching the ball through the middle of the season. At one point his season numbers had him close to an .800 OPS, and he worth about 2 WAR mid-way through the season. Then he fell apart again, dropping the numbers to where they are now.

A lot of that could be sample size and narratives, sure, but it does paint the picture of a guy who still has the talent to be the player everyone thought he could be, and just needs to find consistency. Maybe easier said than done, though.

Overall though, your conclusions make sense. However, if the Jays look at this as a buy-low, and are possibly willing to slightly overpay Rasmus for the next two years to sign him up to a team-friendly deal with a few team options on top of that (as Anthopoulos has done numerous times) it has a chance to turn into a very valuable contract.

Given the Jays depth in CF, with Gose and Marisnick on the horizon, I’d agree that it wouldn’t make tons of sense to guarantee more than two years, however.

TtD
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TtD
3 years 11 months ago

If the Jays consider that drop off to be directly linked to the groin problems he’s had from that time onwards, it likely makes more sense to them to get a deal done now while he’s likely under valued. Given how clearly hurt Rasmus looks, it’s certainly a possibility.

Uh Oh Cordero
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Uh Oh Cordero
3 years 11 months ago

Yeah as a Jays fan I’m praying that this late season struggle is only because of that groin thing we keep hearing about.

Bret
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Bret
3 years 11 months ago

Good point

PeterC
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PeterC
3 years 11 months ago

Do you guys think not having lawrie and bautista bat after him has any affect as well? July 17 and August 3rd.

TtD
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TtD
3 years 11 months ago

Not really Peter, his swing has just fallen apart since around the time the groin injury first showed up, and has just never recovered. It’s not been a matter of lack of protection, as he’s seeing the same kinds of pitches.

Switters
Member
Switters
3 years 11 months ago

The Jays need some people who can get on base. The K% for this team is obscene. Lind, Snider (gone), Hill (gone), Rasmus, K. Johnson (leaving), Davis, Thames, Escobar (bad year?), Arencibia. Now we have Gose and Hechavarria who are looking to be in the same mold. I pray I am wrong and they’re just young and undisciplined.

This team is a long way from contending. We have 5 or 6 players: Bautista, Encaracion (really?), Lawrie (hopefully), Morrow, Janssen (really?), Romero (maybe?).

This team needs a philosophy overhaul. We have to get on base.

Rasmus should not be extended. Let him prove he can get on base.

Baron Samedi
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Baron Samedi
3 years 11 months ago

Aw, look at him – he’s trying. Aren’t you, little guy?

Switters
Member
Switters
3 years 11 months ago

Am I the little guy, or is Rasmus?

His career OBP is .314. His one good year was aided by a .354 BABIP.

J.D.
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J.D.
3 years 11 months ago

Funny you make that comment. Hell, you didn’t even try. What does that make you? I know, I know! Someone who doesn’t have an actual opinion, because he doesn’t understand what he’s looking at when it comes to baseball and statistics.

Dustin
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Dustin
3 years 11 months ago

High K % is fine if you still get on base. Unfortunately, a lot of those guys don’t

tuker1980
Member
tuker1980
3 years 11 months ago

As a Jays fan, I hope they do not extend him, but if they do, no more than 2 + 1 option as suggested. He seems disinterested sometimes and makes mental mistake see vs redsox on EE’s 1 out pop out, he totally forgot there was only 1out. And thats is not the 1st time it happens.

I think at the time of the trade is was a good risk…I mean… releivers for a potential middle of the line up bat… It just hasn’t work out… maybe its time to move on…offer him arb and if he duplicates this year again… let him walk.

stan
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stan
3 years 11 months ago

If he gets an extension, it had better be in the very cheap variety. Otherwise the Jays should have a psychotherapy clause in his contract or something. I’m a Cardinals fan so I’ve been watching his career for a while. While Colby’s got plenty of talent (maybe a bit overrated but still an all-star caliber player), he’s had all the markings of a head case since he’s been a pro. He’s been incredibly streaky but that’s not the real problem. The big red flag was when he blatantly pouted his way through the 2008 season because the didn’t make the big league club. Then in his rookie year he was already clashing with the staff about making fielding and hitting adjustments. In 2010 he put it all together… and then immediately got the big head again. I predict Colby is going to have an all star game in his future some time… but you’d be foolish to pay for it with any long-term contract.

WY
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WY
3 years 11 months ago

It’s been interesting to see Jays fans gradually come to realize what Cardinals fans — who were initially very excited about Rasmus, given his prospect status — came to realize from watching him for a few years.

TRob
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TRob
3 years 9 months ago

Not to mention his insistence on his dad being his hitting coach.

Jim Lahey
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Jim Lahey
3 years 11 months ago

I don’t see how they can possibly give him an extension. He’s well touted, and expected to blossom into a major league star, but he has failed to show sustained success, having been given numerous opportunities. It’s not to say that he is without value and should be cut loose, but investing in him now, despite his lowered value currently, seems like a risky proposition with a high likelihood of failure.

Irrational Optimist
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Irrational Optimist
3 years 11 months ago

It kills me to say that maybe TLR was right about the kid (and his dad). Can’t fix a bad attitude. They insure that every streak fades quickly into a slump and every slump becomes a lost season.

Anon
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Anon
3 years 11 months ago

Then he was traded to the Blue Jays and started floundering.

If I remeber correctly, Jon Jay was taking some playing time from Rasmus before the trade.

It would be great to see a review of the Rasmus trade as a Fangraphs article.

stan
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stan
3 years 11 months ago

Yes. Rasmus had barely played in the month leading up to the trade. Jay had been matching his production and playing more and more in April and May and Colby started pouting in June, which really tanked his performance and led to Jay being the clear starter for a while. The Cardinals needed to trade Colby not just because they needed pitching but also because having him on the roster was a distraction because he was not contributing anything.

hindsight
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hindsight
3 years 11 months ago
Anon
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Anon
3 years 11 months ago

Thanks for the link. That article had very little analysis, but there were some really good comments.

Ryan
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Ryan
3 years 11 months ago

That’s right. Jay was outplaying Rasmus at the time of the trade — at least, in TLR’s eyes.

Jay, despite a few weeks lost to injury, is now sitting with 4.5 WAR this year (thus besting Rasmus’s 1 good year). As it currently stands, TLR’s assessment that Jay is the better player looks correct.

I’m a Cardinals fan who was a bit worried about the trade at the time, but given how everything has unfolded, it’s hard to think that TLR/Mozeliak weren’t right. If there was a mistake, it was probably not cutting bait sooner (e.g. the offseason before). Rasmus surely had more value then.

With Rasmus now going into year 5, he’s going to be playing at or near market cost for the rest of his career anyway. In the end, the Cards gave up little and got some of the pieces they needed for last year’s run (e.g. Scrabble & Dotel).

stan
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stan
3 years 11 months ago

… not to mention the draft picks the Cardinals got for Jackson and Dotel, the $3M the Jays threw in (instead of the originially reported 3 ptbnl), the salary dumps of Miller and Tallet…

I thought it was a good gamble for the Jays to take given Colby’s potential but those who panned it for the Cardinals really had no idea what type of player Rasmus really was.

AnonJaysFan
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AnonJaysFan
3 years 11 months ago

“Rasmus…hasn’t fielded well”

This contention is not backed up by any facts. Starting with the metrics on this site, he’s slightly above average by DRs, slightly below average by UZR. To get average defense from a CF suggests a player who is quite good defensively. The Fan Scouting Report has him a little about average. Personally, in terms of the eye test, all of this is about right. He looks to be around an average CF, which is just fine in the field. Not someone not fielding well

UZR>DRS
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UZR>DRS
3 years 11 months ago

Two problems with your claim that there isn’t evidence to say that Rasmus is someone who hasn’t fielded well.

UZR–yes, a model with flaws–does have four seasons of data points for Rasmus the CF…and it says that he ultimately costs teams more runs than he saves. Having a net negative defensive value, to me, is the definition of not fielding well.

Furthermore, since 2010, of minimum qualified CF, Rasmus ranks 23rd in terms of UZR of those centerfielders. If you include his 2009 (which was his “good” defensive year), he actually ends up 28th of 40 qualified CFers. So he’s below average when compared to his peers too.

I’m all for considering the data points of DRS and FSR in concert with UZR, but even with them, taking a long view, it seems much more appropriate to conclude that Rasmus is, at best, “average” and more likely “below average” as a CF. We also should consider, especially in the context of a contract extension discussion, that defensive value for premium defensive positions typically peaks early. Which is to say…true talent improvement is less likely than skill erosion going forward.

dougiejays
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dougiejays
3 years 11 months ago

His overall numbers have been terrible, but he’s still only 25, and what I saw from him in June was real. Every at-bat was a pitch just waiting to be deposited insie the RF foul pole. And given what’s happened with Encarnacion and Bautista in Toronto, I don’t think it’s unlikely that Rasmus will one day develop into something more consistent.

That said, it could take 3-4 years, by which time Gose will have designs on being the primary CF and even with an extension Rasmus would probably looking at free agency. And if we’re looking at that type of long-term investment and potential sunk costs, I’m not sure we shouldn’t have just stuck it out with Rios and Snider.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
3 years 11 months ago

“only 25” doesn’t really apply. It’s pretty close to make or break time. 25-30 is typically a player’s prime. Maybe he’ll have a great age 27-30 peak but the clock is ticking. It’s not like he’s 23, he’s getting to the “alright dude, let’s see it” age.

dougiejays
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dougiejays
3 years 11 months ago

In theory, I know that, but he WAS only 23 when the trade was made, so just because he’s had a single inconsistent season since then I don’t think it’s time to completely write him off. And as a Blue Jay fan I’ve seen my share of age-29 breakouts.

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
3 years 11 months ago

Turn this around for a minute. Suppose they don’t extend him. What then?

The consequences for Toronto seem negligible, although I’m not a Blue Jays fan and may be missing something. But what becomes of Raz? Will anybody be willing to expend a major-league contract and a spot on the 40-man for a guy with as big a gap between projected and real performance as he has? If so, who? If not, then is he done, or does he go back to the minors and become a break-glass-in-emergency AAAA guy?

If this non-extension does come to pass, one suggestion: keep a VERY careful eye on what Jeff Luhnow in Houston does, or does not, do to sign him.

Radivel
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Radivel
3 years 11 months ago

Will anybody be willing to expend a major-league contract and a spot on the 40-man for a guy with as big a gap between projected and real performance as he has?
—–

No, that’s never, EVER happened before… :P

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
3 years 11 months ago

Of course it’s been done before, and it’ll be done again. That does not, however, mean that it will be done with Raz.

A look at Rasmus’ comparables lists is edifying. (I’m using the baseball-reference version here, btw.) There are some players on it who got it together after age 25 and had significant major-league careers (Roger Maris, Jim Wynn). There are some others who … didn’t (Oddibe McDowell, Corey Patterson). Just the presence of Patterson on that list would give some GMs pause; if that’s what the future Raz looks like, well …

I repeat: it will be very interesting to see how Jeff Luhnow reacts if Raz does get his walking papers. He was there when Raz was drafted and signed by St. Louis, he was still there when he was defenestrated, and he has already shown interest in ex-Cardinals, both in the front office and on the field (e.g. Tyler Greene). He knows some things about the lad that the rest of us don’t know. If Luhnow makes a run at him, that tells you something. If he doesn’t, it tells me that as a GM for a different team, I probably shouldn’t either.

Mark
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Mark
3 years 11 months ago

“Keeping Rasmus around for another couple of seasons is a decision with some merit, for sure, but the Jays need to be careful here. Rasmus hasn’t shown any true sign of turning the corner or improving his productivity, and he simply isn’t the same player that topped 4 WAR with the 2010 Cardinals.”

While that may be true, he was also pretty solid in his 2011 season with the Cards (110 wRC+) and unless you believe he was worth -9 UZR in 94 games, that’s a pretty damn good line.

A lot of people ignore his splits, but Rasmus has been significantly better vs RHP. He’s got a 102 wRC+ vs RHP and 56 vs LHP. In his career he’s got a 108 wRC+ vs RHP and 74 vs lefties.

At worst he’s a league average or very slightly above league average hitter vs RHP who can play solid D in CF. Get a good fourth OF who can hit LHP and play decent D in CF and you maximize Rasmus’ skillset. I’d extend him now, because I don’t think he’s this bad vs lefties and should continue with a similar production vs RHP.

I’m sure someone will tell me I should ignore his vs RHP/LHP splits but over the next few years I could definitely see him posting a 100~ wRC+ vs RHP and you know what, given the position and his D that’s pretty useful.

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