I don’t know if you have heard, but the Detroit Tigers are looking for a center fielder. With just 36 days remaining until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, that need becomes ever pressing. The potential options to fill that void remain oh so underwhelming. It can often be difficult to make a choice when digging through the bargain bin. There are so many options available, but so little to distinguish them from one another.
Colby Rasmus is one of those options, albeit not as directly in the spotlight as others. Let’s see if we can distinguish him from the rest of the pack.
Who is he?
The 30-year-old outfielder has been in the league since 2009. He has played for several teams in that time, the most recent being the Houston Astros. He scuffled a bit last year, hitting just .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs for Houston. His 75 wRC+ was a career-worst. However, he isn’t far removed from doing useful things with the lumber. Rasmus has never been a high average guy or a base-stealing threat, but he has a decent amount of pop. He hit 25 home runs in 2015, and hovered around the 20-dinger mark in the previous three seasons.
While Rasmus has been primarily used as a corner outfielder for the past few seasons, he spent the majority of his time in center field as recently as 2014. Over eight major league seasons, he has accumulated +16 defensive runs saved (DRS) and a 0.8 UZR at the position. He’s not exactly setting the world on fire, but he’s a capable glove at all three outfield positions.
Why should we care?
While 2016 was an ugly season for him, it turns out he was dealing with some physical issues. He had surgery in October to shave down a bone spur that was affecting his left hip. He also underwent the ever-popular core muscle repair surgery, and is expected to be fully recovered by spring training. If he is fully healthy, there’s a chance he could return to being the type of offense threat has been over the past several years.
Rasmus is just one season removed from hitting 25 home runs and sporting a .789 OPS. He has managed a wRC+ above 100 in three of the past four years, and has a pair of 130 wRC+ seasons under his belt. He has hit 14 home runs in each of his eight major league seasons, and walks a fair amount to boot. While his hip surgery may slow him down, he has been a solid baserunner in the past, accumulating 25.5 baserunning runs (BsR) in his career.
Why should we stay away?
For starters, he’s Colby Rasmus. The man has built a reputation, deserved or not, for being less than popular both in the clubhouse and on the field. Former teammate Adam Lind threw in a small jab after leaving Toronto.
“They haven’t changed the culture of the clubhouse,” said Adam Lind — traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in November. “They’re my friends, but the guys who still run it are still there. Jose Bautista is the voice among position players and Mark Buehrle runs the starting pitchers.
“There might be a few more smiles with Colby gone.”
Aside from that, there are some downsides with his on-field performance. He has primarily become a corner outfielder. While he has played great defense in left — he sported a DRS of +14 and UZR of +11.3 in 672 innings last year — a move back to center would essentially erase all of that value. His center field defense is passable, but not the upgrade the Tigers are hoping for.
Offensively, his strikeout rate has hovered around an uncomfortable-looking 30 percent for the last three seasons. When you pair that with a career on-base percentage that sits at just .311, he looks very much like a guy that is going to rely on bringing a certain amount of power to the plate. If he has any remaining health issues from his offseason surgeries — or if he takes longer to fully recover from the core muscle procedure than what has been projected — he could turn into a bad decision really fast.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The Tigers are looking to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million for a center fielder this offseason. Rasmus played well enough in 2015 that the Astros gave him a $15.8 million qualifying offer, which he accepted. While he certainly will not demand that kind of money this year, I don’t know if he would take that steep of a pay cut. At 30, he is also probably looking for a multi-year deal.
I think there are teams that would see more value in paying Rasmus a bigger contract to play left field, as opposed to what Detroit can offer him to play center. The Tigers could potentially get crazy and move Justin Upton to center, but I doubt that’s anywhere close to what they have in mind. But compared to their current options, Rasmus would be an upgrade.