Two years ago, outfielder Colby Rasmus enjoyed a breakout season with the Toronto Blue Jays. Rasmus hit .276/.338/.501 with 22 home runs in 458 plate appearances, good enough for his highest OPS since an excellent sophomore season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010. With just one more season remaining until free agency, Rasmus had positioned himself for a big payday as one of the premier center fielders on the market.
Instead, he flopped. Bothered by neck, hamstring, and wrist issues, Rasmus struggled to a .225 batting average and .289 on-base percentage in 104 games. His 33 percent strikeout rate was also ugly, and he was worth just 0.9 WAR. Instead of a big contract, Rasmus signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Houston Astros. where he enjoyed a solid 2.8 WAR year with a career-high 25 home runs.
Teams don't forget so easily, though. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Astros are unlikely to extend Rasmus a qualifying offer, making him ineligible for draft pick compensation this winter. Without that penalty in place, would the Tigers be more enticed to sign the 29-year-old outfielder?
Who is he?
Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals int he first round of the 2005 draft, Rasmus made his big league debut with the Redbirds in 2009. He spent the majority of that year, his age-22 season, as the team's center fielder. He hit 16 home runs and was worth 2.7 WAR, tied for third-highest among NL rookies. He was even better in 2010, hitting .276/.361/.498 with 23 home runs and 12 stolen bases.
Following a pair of subpar seasons with under 1.0 WAR, Rasmus was worth a career-best 5.1 WAR with the Blue Jays in 2013 before his aforementioned flop in 2014. He fit the Astros' boom-or-bust offense to a tee last season, hitting 25 home runs. However, he also struck out 154 times, good enough for his third consecutive season with a strikeout rate of 29 percent or higher. His career numbers have averaged out to an above average offensive profile, but he has been a high variance player throughout his seven major league seasons.
Why should we care?
The Tigers led the American League in batting average and were second in on-base percentage in 2015, but their power numbers were seriously lacking. They were 10th in isolated power (ISO) and 11th in home runs, a sharp decline from what they had done over the past few years. Rasmus doesn't hit for a high average, but he has plenty of power, with four 20-homer seasons under his belt already in his career. He has a career .198 ISO, and has been above the .220 mark in each of the past three seasons. Putting a slugger into the No. 6 or 7 spot in the order could help lengthen their lineup in 2016.
Rasmus also brings more versatility to the table than your typical outfielder. Having played center field for most of his career, Rasmus could potentially be an above average left fielder, or play center whenever Anthony Gose is not in the lineup. The advanced metrics have not supported this hypothesis yet, but with under 1,000 innings played in a corner outfield role, we do not have a large enough sample to draw any definitive conclusions.
Why should we stay away?
If recent trends continued, Rasmus could be in line for some regression in 2016. He played poorly in 2012 and 2014, with productive seasons in 2013 and 2015 in between. I'm not suggesting any sort of odd-year phenomenon, but the high variance in his numbers warrants caution when considering whether Rasmus could fill a void in the Tigers' outfield next season. He has been worth less than 1.0 WAR in three of his past five seasons, and has had trouble staying healthy as well.
Then there are the platoon splits. Rasmus displayed some odd reverse platoon splits in 2015, hitting .252/.364/.471 against left-handed pitching. However, even this was not enough to correct his career-long struggles against lefties. He has hit for a .785 OPS against right-handed pitching, but is hitting just .219 with a .298 on-base percentage for his career. With no ready-made platoon options currently in the organization and another lefty platoon candidate in center field, they would need to add two more players in addition to Rasmus to shore up their outfield.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Given Rasmus' limitations, his high-variance profile, and the additional shuffling they would need to do to complete their roster, it's hard to see him in a Tigers uniform next season. Rasmus' powerful bat would be a great fit in their lineup, but the production has not been consistent enough to commit $50 million or more to him over the next four years.