The deal with the St. Louis Cardinals that brought Colby Rasmus and others to Toronto was touted at the time as a very good trade for the Jays. As such it added to Alex Anthopoulos’s growing mystique. Rasmus had a reputation as a very talented CF, but he also had a reputation as a trouble maker. No less an authority than Tony LaRussa had labelled Rasmus as such.
The trade was need-based. The outfield defense was mediocre at best and there was also a lack of continuity among players, with sub-standard fielders rotating in and out of the three positions. AA wanted a good defender to solidify the OF and contribute offensively. The Jays had been spoiled by Vernon Wells who, despite a terrible contract, was a good all-round outfielder. A spike in production led to a wise trade with the Angels, and just like that Vernon was gone. This move, hailed by many as shrewd because of its improbability, brought OF Juan Rivera, who had a reputation as a loafer and poor outfielder. Add to him Corey Patterson, Jose Bautista, Rajai Davis, Eric Thames, Travis Snider, and others, and the need was obvious. His reputation for targeting ‘problem’ players like Yunel Escobar growing, AA acquired Rasmus (and relievers/salary) for a relatively low price (several relievers; a starter who never pitched for TOR; a 4th OF; and cash). The skinny was that if Rasmus could ‘hit his stride’ in Toronto, the deal would be a major win for both teams.
His rookie season was good enough to place him eighth in ROY voting, but in 2010 Rasmus displayed some of the offensive potential that made baseball folks drool. Without going into great detail, Rasmus’s OPS+ was 32% above league average, his ISO was .222, his BABIP was .354, and his wOBA was .366. Not bad for a 23-year old still cutting his teeth. Defensively he was good enough to relegate John Jay to RF. Then trouble found him. In 2011, Rasmus didn’t hit very well, his father became involved, and the Cardinals were playing poorly. Veteran manager Tony LaRussa pointed his finger at Colby Rasmus. The Cards were getting offense from the corners (Matt Holliday; Lance Berkman), had two other young OF (John Jay; Allen Craig) to fill the void, but needed pitching badly. The solution was fairly simple.
Early returns on the deal were lopsided. The Cards won the World Series, seemingly vindicating LaRussa in the process and the pitchers Toronto traded contributed to the win. Meanwhile TOR scuffled with an inconsistent staff and ‘pen, Colby never really got on track in TOR and they finished fourth in the AL East again. Maybe LaRussa was right and, despite being only 25, maybe Rasmus had already peaked.
More than a year later, what do we think of the deal now? LaRussa went out on top and Pujols skipped town for an Olympic-sized pool full of cash, but the Cards are contending. Craig and Jay continue to play well. Marc Rzepczynski is an effective LOOGY. Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel are pitching well elsewhere. The relievers TOR acquired were ineffective and are gone, leaving Colby Rasmus as the Jays’ only return from the trade. Was it worth it?
The short answer is ‘yes and no’. Rasmus has helped solidify the defense. Colby and Jose make two-thirds of a good OF and Rasmus has enough range to help Rajai Davis, the incumbent LF. That said, some defensive metrics suggest Colby Rasmus is a middle-of-the-pack defender. His six errors are tied for the second most in MLB among CF. Correspondingly his .977 Fld% ranks 18th in MLB among qualified CF. As of this article his UZR is 2.4, which is well below his career mark but better than his last two seasons. The Jays’ OF defense was bad before he arrived. It’s better now, but not much.
Offensively he’s struggled. After hitting in the bottom third of the order, Rasmus was moved to the #2 spot on May 26. The next month (until June 25) has been his only good, prolonged stretch offensively as a Blue Jay. Tantalizingly, that 26-game stretch saw his OPS rise from .670 to .829. Many thought Colby Rasmus had arrived. But that’s only part of the picture. His offensive explosion in May/June has given way to the Colby Rasmus of the first seven weeks of ’12 and the last 2+ months of ’11.. On May 26, his slash line was .215/.290/.380, but by June 25, it improved to .268/.327/.502. The differences are substantial. BA isn’t a useful indicator, but the contrast is illuminating: during that month he hit .322; during the rest of his time as a Blue Jay he’s hit .199. One good month offensively; the rest of the time, he’s been sub-Mendoza. Punctuating this is the answer to a trivia question: from the end of July until the end of August, Colby Rasmus appeared in 20 straight losses by the Blue Jays. The question is, ‘is the picture unfinished, or is what we see what we get?’
Several things work in his favour: he just turned 26, he has a nagging injury, and he was injured at about the same time last year. Because of these, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. There are other factors, as well. Bautista and Lawrie have been hurt, leaving Rasmus and Encarnacion virtually unprotected in the line-up. There has been no publicized acrimony with management of any level, and he seems to be a good teammate.
That said, Colby is up to his old tricks in August: 14 hits (.187 AVG), 4 xbh (1 DBL; 3 HR), 5 BB, 31 K, dropping his slash line to .231/.295/.428. Let’s put his struggles into franchise perspective. Colby Rasmus presently has a wRC+ of 92. His career mark is much higher (129), but his present level is consistent with the bulk of his career. There have been five players to play at least 350 games in CF for the Jays: Rick Bosetti, Jose Cruz, Jr., Lloyd Moseby, Vernon Wells, and Devon White (Colby’s played 152). Colby’s wRC+ of 92 ranks not only as 8% below league average in 2012 (and last among AL CF), but it’s only the 25th best total in that group. How long will it continue? I don’t know, but I expect September to be an important month for Colby and the Jays, though the losses are expected to climb.