Let's set the scene. The Oakland Athletics have something like $15-20 million available to spend if they can find the right target. We took a look at one of the better remaining starting pitching options, and the community soundly rejected that idea -- the poll was 65 percent in favor of "No" on Dan Haren. The ensuing discussion revealed that folks are most interested in upgrading the offense, and that makes sense given that the A's are almost certain to suffer a decrease in home runs next season. Leaving alone second base for now, one option for an outfield power upgrade is Jay Bruce of the Reds, and we discussed him last week. The next obvious target is free agent Colby Rasmus.
Before we begin, there is some bad news. Jim Bowden reported Thursday that Rasmus and the Baltimore Orioles are "gaining steam," so it's possible that he could already be off the market by the time you read this. Rumors don't always lead to deals, though, and the Orioles in particular made news last year for how deep they got into negotiations with at least one player (Grant Balfour) before breaking things off. It's still January and we have something relevant and baseball-related to talk about, so let's risk it and run with this.
Who is Colby Rasmus?
Rasmus is a 28-year-old outfielder who bats and throws left-handed. His strength is hitting for a lot of power while playing center field, a premium up-the-middle defensive position. His drawbacks are that he doesn't hit for a high average or get on base and he strikes out a lot and he lands on the DL every year and his defense is inconsistent and oh my god why oh why didn't you develop into a superstar like you were supposed to Colby??
Rasmus, 2012: .223/.289/.400, 86 OPS+, 625 PAs, 23 HR, 23.8 K%
Rasmus, 2013: .276/.338/.501, 127 OPS+, 458 PAs, 22 HR, 29.5 K%
Rasmus, 2014: .225/.287/.448, 104 OPS+, 376 PAs, 18 HR, 33.0 K%
Rasmus, 2012: 1.8 bWAR, 1.0 fWAR, plus-7 DRS
Rasmus, 2013: 4.6 bWAR, 4.8 fWAR, plus-11 DRS
Rasmus, 2014: 0.9 bWAR, 0.6 fWAR, minus-7 DRS
If I were to come up with a comp for Rasmus, I would start on a happy note by calling him a really, really poor man's Torii Hunter. Then I'd probably settle on "Mike Cameron without the defense," and even that would be a bit optimistic. But nothing better encapsulates Rasmus' combination of talent, frustrating results, and odd career arc like his list of Similar Batters By Age on Baseball-Reference:
Age 23: Bobby Bonds
Age 24: Oddibe McDowell
Age 25: Corey Patterson
Goodness, things went wrong in a hurry there. On the bright side, Oddibe McDowell is one of my favorite baseball names of all time and I got to include him in an article, so it's not all bad. Wait, who comes next on that Most Similar By Age list?
Age 26: Chris Young
Age 27: Chris Young
That's his perfect comp -- the Arizona version of Chris Young, before he came to Oakland and forgot how to do everything. That's 20-homer power, lots of strikeouts, not enough hits or walks, and boom-or-bust defense in center. Yes, he's Chris Young, who we were once fairly excited to steal away from the Diamondbacks.
Hmm, that's not a good start. The real Chris Young was a disaster for the A's. Let's continue anyway. Try to remember how good Young used to be before he came here.
How would Rasmus fit on the roster?
It seems unlikely that Rasmus would play center field in Oakland. Craig Gentry might be the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and if Melvin isn't going strictly by the metrics then Coco Crisp is the clear subjective option. However, what Rasmus could do is be the above-average left fielder who is capable of sliding over to center in an emergency -- in other words, the role that Sam Fuld currently holds. Except Rasmus will do it while also hitting dingers.
On offense, he'd be a clear upgrade, even given his flaws. I'm a huge fan of Fuld, but he will always profile as a significantly below-average hitter and he gets by with an ecksteinian playing style in which he does all the "little things." Those little things are great, but home runs are even better. Even Rasmus' pathetic OBP skills (sub-.300 in three of the last four years) aren't much of a downgrade from Fuld, who posted a .275 OBP for the A's last year; Rasmus' career mark is .313, and Fuld's is .316, so they're even in that regard. Rasmus is basically Fuld at the plate, but with 20 homers instead of 20 steals. That sounds like exactly what the A's need.
As for defense, it should be noted that Rasmus hasn't played a single inning outside of center field since his rookie year of 2009. We assume from our living rooms that all center fielders can easily slide over to left and likely even perform better there, but we need look no further than Young himself to see how switching around between different outfield spots isn't part of every outfielder's skill set. And the metrics don't know what to make of Rasmus' defense in the first place -- both UZR and DRS give him credit for three positive years and three negative years, while DRS gives him a positive career value and UZR a negative one. Given that he had a couple of lingering leg injuries in 2010, I wonder if the negative marks can be somewhat attributed to physical causes such that a clean bill of health would also suggest a positive defensive outlook. That he missed a month in 2014 with a hamstring strain further supports that theory, as it helps explain his sudden decline in the metrics last year. At worst, Rasmus' new team can probably expect at least average defense in center when his body is working right.
And how often does his body work right? The bad news is that he played only 222 games combined the last two years, and didn't reach 120 in either campaign. However, I don't think that's as dire as it sounds. A list of his career DL stints:
- sprained a wrist in 2011 (21 games), but his power clearly recovered so that's probably nothing to worry about*
- strained an oblique in 2013 (29 games), but it did not resurface last year so hopefully it's resolved
- strained a hamstring in 2014 (33 games), but he'd never had hamstring problems before so this isn't a chronic issue
* He initially hurt the wrist colliding with the wall ... while making a catch to rob none other than Billy Butler of a hit.
He's missed some time, but all of those seem like isolated instances and I don't see any long-term issues to worry about. What I see is a guy who plays really hard, like Reddick and Lawrie and even Fuld himself, and who will always be susceptible to getting banged up. But hey, who isn't?
Rasmus can easily take Fuld's role on defense without much of a drop-off (if any, since Fuld is only adequate in center), and he can duplicate Fuld's batting line but with the addition of home runs. I like where this is going.
I worry that I've been over-using Steamer projections lately, but if I didn't use them then we'd just be making up our own numbers anyway so let's start with it as a baseline (both players are credited for around 500 plate appearances):
Rasmus, 2015 projection: .233/.300/.417, 18 HR, 1.4 fWAR
Fuld, 2015 projection: .232/.308/.330, 5 HR, 18 SB, 0.9 fWAR
The reason I called on Steamer again is to illustrate the comparison I'm trying to make. Look at those batting lines. The first two percentages are about equal, and the only difference comes in the slugging department. (Note: Fuld is also projected to strike out only about half as often as Rasmus.) If you could take our current roster and just add a dozen or more homers to Sam Fuld's stat line, wouldn't that be a no-brainer?
With Rasmus in the mix, Reddick can play right, Coco and Gentry can share center, and Rasmus can play left with Mark Canha starting against tough lefties (Rasmus has moderate career platoon splits). That might squeeze John Jaso off the roster, since Stephen Vogt would need to get his at-bats in the catcher's spot and Jaso's own defensive shortcomings make it tougher and tougher to fit him into the mix, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. Jaso remains a possible trade candidate either way.
How much will he cost?
Rasmus' market is tough to peg, but I think the most likely scenario is that he'll sign a one-year deal to rebuild his value for one last shot at a big multi-year reward. MLB Trade Rumors ultimately agrees, and in October they took a guess that he'd end up with $12 million. In reality, Orioles beat writer Roch Kubatko suggested that the deal the two sides are negotiating could be in the neighborhood of $7 million guaranteed. If he can't come to an agreement with Baltimore, perhaps the A's could get him for $10 million or less -- well within the team's budget if it means adding much-needed power to the lineup.
The final verdict
The A's have money, and with each passing day it looks more and more like they won't be able to use it to simply buy a second baseman -- that can only come through trade. They have plenty of young pitching and don't have an immediate need to spend in that area, leaving a power hitter as the only remaining item on the shopping list. Finding quality, reliable power on an affordable one-year deal is a rare thing indeed in 2015, so at the least this is something the A's should strongly consider.
The move wouldn't be without risks. Rasmus has shown a propensity to miss a month per season on the DL, his strikeouts have been increasing for years, his on-base skills are almost nonexistent, he has a reputation as an underachiever, and he's a generally inconsistent player who might give you 4 WAR or might be a total bust. After watching the $8 million dumpster fire that was Chris Young's 2013 season, not to mention the $72 million the Braves blew on B.J. Upton, you'd be forgiven for not being in a rush to sink eight figures into another high-risk, high-strikeout center fielder. But given the options remaining, and the money still available, Rasmus might be the best possible fit for this team.
I find myself in a similar place as in the Haren discussion. I could take or leave this one. With money available and no better ways to use it to improve the team, I'd be perfectly happy adding Rasmus. But if some other team wants to shell out for the right to gamble on him, and the downside is that I get to watch my beloved Fuld for another season, then that's okay too. This discussion might not matter anyway, if he signs with the Orioles this week. But if he doesn't, then I would endorse, but not insist on, the A's making a run at Colby Rasmus.