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.