Re-Evaluating the Rasmus Trade

When Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays acquired center fielder Colby Rasmus for Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, and Marc Rzepczynski just before the Trade Deadline last summer, the blogosphere and Twitterverse were exploding with praise for Toronto.

Anthopoulos parted with relatively little to acquire a young center fielder who was worth 4.3 WAR in the previous season at only 24 years old. His .366 wOBA was the third best in baseball by a center fielder, which was only bested by Josh Hamilton and Carlos Gonzalez. Rasmus also had three-and-a-half years remaining under team control, which only augmented his value as a baseball asset.

The trade was an unequivocal win for our amiable neighbors north of the border. Toronto’s stat-friendly, new-age general manager hoodwinked his backward counterpart in St. Louis, and frankly, it wasn’t even close.

At least, that was what was supposed to happen.

Instead, Tim Tebow himself shone down on the St. Louis Cardinals and led them to an improbable World Series title. The players acquired in the Rasmus trade performed quite well for the Red Birds. Edwin Jackson threw 78 solid innings and even started four games for the Cardinals during the postseason. Octavio Dotel posted an impressive 1.57 FIP after joining St. Louis. Even the forgettable Marc Rzepczynski handcuffed lefties on his way to a 2.72 FIP.

Rasmus, on the other hand, defied expectations and struggled to a .173/.201/.316 triple-slash line after joining the Blue Jays. He ended the season with a .302 wOBA, which ranked second-worst in all of baseball — second to only Alex Rios — and was largely dragged down by his putrid, post-trade .225 wOBA.

Just over two months of performance does not define a trade, though. Rasmus potentially has at least three years remaining with the Blue Jays, and the Cardinals lost Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel to free agency, leaving them with only a situational lefty to show for their former top prospect.

In addition, Toronto should expect Rasmus to enjoy a bounceback season in 2012. Although he was certainly dreadful after being acquired in late July, the center fielder fell victim to a .217 BABIP in his 35 games with the Blue Jays. His 10.9% line-drive percentage and 20% infield fly-ball percentage should caution us from believing his BABIP should automatically normalize back to .300 in 2012, but logic suggests that he will return to his career .298 BABIP and career 18.5% line-drive percentage.

It is possible that a transition to the AL East really treated Rasmus poorly. Perhaps he will continue to swing-and-miss more often than he had earlier in his career, and perhaps he will continue to chase more pitches outside the strike zone. It is far more likely, however, that his first two months in Toronto were simply a blip on the radar screen and will normalize next season.

Blue Jays fans likely feel a bit cheated after digesting much of the post-trade hype surrounding Rasmus. They should feel some vindication, though, after he bounces back closer to the 2010 version of Colby Rasmus, rather than the 2011 version that wasn’t even worth a single win throughout the entire year.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

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