For me, a particularly striking thing about the first Prime Time Sports week from Dunedin was how flippant some of the panelists seemed to be about the place that Colby Rasmus holds on this Jays team, and how unlikely it is that they think he’ll last the year here in Toronto.
I mean, I understand the romance of the tools Anthony Gose possesses, and that Rasmus has masked his own over two seasons of grim production, but all the confident talk that Rasmus is on his way out– and there was… maybe not a lot of it, but enough to be noticeable– seemed a bit odd. According to Tom Maloney of the Globe and Mail, however, and the sources he anonymously cites, “in exchange for ‘withholding attribution’,” it’s Rasmus whose presence on this club, and perhaps even in the Majors, that doesn’t fit, which maybe makes questions about how long he’ll last here perfectly natural.
I like Maloney and what he’s done on his return to the baseball beat this spring so far, but I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at this angle, or at the wide swath of moonshine, drawls, cotton and corn that he slathers across the place Rasmus calls home.
No one in the Toronto Blue Jays administration is demanding superstar production from him, yet he carries the weight of surreal expectation as though a sack of corn is strapped permanently to his back. Staring into his locker, he portrays a person in need of sweet relief, a man besieged by the doomsayer notion that his best can never be good enough. Not for his father, not for the media, not for the people back home, not for the scouts, not for his teammates and coaches, and most grievously, not for himself.
Rasmus understands he must appreciate the privilege of what he has and where he is. Yet, like many professional athletes, he yearns for the place he came from, too, those days playing sandlot baseball in shorts and no shirt in a region of the country characterized by moonshine and unending acres of cotton and corn, in an atmosphere far removed from Twitterville.
I mean, obviously I don’t know where specifically his house is– maybe it’s as hopelessly rural as it’s suggested (though… where are the other sandlot players coming from, then?)– but Rasmus’s hometown of Phenix City, Alabama, is home to over 30,000 people, directly across the Chattahoochee River from the 194,000 residents of Columbus, Georgia, and part of the Greater Columbus metropolitan area, which is statistically about the same size as London, Ontario– albeit with quite a bit of rural space between the main population centres of the conurbation, Columbus/Phenix City, and Auburn/Opelika, Alabama.
Of course, such facts need not get in the way of taking a glorious shortcut on the road to reinforcing Colby’s supposed otherness in the clubhouse, in the game– shit, in the modern world itself– and one that’s not particularly compelling given the number players who come from that region. Which isn’t to suggest that Rasmus necessarily isn’t wired differently than his teammates, it’s just reading all that, plus the standard stuff about his hatred of baseball during his time in St. Louis and issues with a domineering vicariously-living father help paint a clear picture of a millionaire ballplayer who’d rather be just about anywhere else, and I can’t help but think it’s maybe a little too convenient in establishing an already too convenient narrative.
“He doesn’t really fit with what they are doing,” the anonymous source, a big league manager, dishes. “He looks out of place with the rest of the team, out of his element a little bit.”
Maloney adds that Rasmus brings “a laid back veneer coating a tense interior,” and it’s easy to see elements of truth there, especially given the stories– and Colby’s own admission– of his beating himself up, working too much, acting the part of his father, even in his absence. But the overall impression is that Rasmus now has too much stacked against him– despite Alex Anthopoulos and the sheer force of will by which he’s trying to pull Colby to the other side– to translate his talents to the elite, professional, filthy fucking rich domain of MLB. This is something he can only accomplish, we’re told, if he can “just close his eyes, relax, and imagine the Rogers Centre into an imaginary Alabama sandlot.” Or maybe if he just had the dang ol’ sense to get rid of his “unorthodox batting stance, [in which] the left-handed hitter starts with his hands in front of his chest and over the middle of the plate, moving the hands back behind his ribs as the pitcher gets set to throw.”
If that’s the prevailing sentiment among the reporters around the club (or at least the ones on the airwaves of the Fan 590) then shit, I can understand why there’s this belief that Rasmus will once again come out flat, while Gose– whose tools have been hyped for years, whose Vegas numbers (naturally) looked great, who is spectacular in the field, and who looked like maybe everything had clicked at the plate in September– is destined to be the guy here, and soon. I just have a hard time letting myself believe it when it gets wrapped up in such a cute package, buoyed by the casualness by which it’s spoken over the radio that Rasmus is as good as gone.
It’s very possible he could be– Gose doesn’t need to hit all that much to make Rasmus expendable, given that he does just about everything else better– but it won’t be for Colby’s inability to appear cosmopolitan, or whatever inner tension he supposedly carries. And these sorts of stories don’t ever seem quite able to make any kind of hard link between such implied character flaws and the struggles Rasmus has had in his big league career. Sometimes it reads like we’re supposed to see the correlation and understand what must be the cause. But baseball doesn’t always have answers that come in straight lines, and while the struggles Colby has had may be in part due to something in his head, it’s not like he has been a complete basket case his entire career. He succeeded in 2010 with the Cardinals, and over the six weeks last year when the changes to his stance produced a dramatic spike in results (.973 OPS over 42 games) before the league adjusted to him, and even in the pre-trade part of 2011, when he put up a .330 wOBA over 94 games in St. Louis.
The things it’s implied hamper him now existed during those periods as well, so… maybe there really is no good explanation. In this game, I find that’s probably the case more often than we want to believe. It’s certainly not a very satisfying one for why such a talented player has had such trouble, but like I say, it all just seems a bit too easy.
Whatever the explanation is, it true that Rasmus, who turns 27 in August, doesn’t have an infinite amount of time in which find himself, even if a lot of people– Alex Anthopoulos included, as Maloney makes clear– believe that his talent will eventually carry the day. He makes $4.675-million this season, and is heading towards his last trip through the arbitration process, which will take his salary even higher. It’s not a terrific position to be in, with the younger, cheaper, more dynamic Gose waiting in the wings, and that, too, has surely led to the speculation that he won’t last the year, but for me, Gose’s hit tool is at least as much of a question mark as anything to do with Rasmus.
The path for Gose may also be made difficult by an evolution in the front office. Bruce Arthur explains in today’s National Post that Alex Anthopoulos is forcing himself, and his charges, to be less enchanted by the big potential he sees in his own players, which may be a reason to believe they’ll take a cautious approach with Gose.
It used to be that the Jays would look at the roster and imagine upside, even faintly; they would have a slight bias towards a better outcome, whether they were considering the potential of Adam Lind or Edwin Encarnacion. Last season, the hope resided in Dustin McGowan, who had the best stuff in the organization when he began pitching; McGowan got hurt again, of course, and somehow it was a blow.
Anthopoulos had seen enough trapdoors open, and decided to approach the season differently.
“I remember when I met with our group, I said, we overvalue our own players,” Anthopoulos says. “Nothing wrong with being glass half-full, but I said we’re going to take our team and we’re going to think glass half-empty. The off-season before, you’re more optimistic about all our players. He’s this, he’s this, he’s this, he’s this.
“Not that we’re taking the worst-case scenario, but we looked at our team and said well, if this guy bounces back. Well, what if they don’t? So let’s go into it that way, so we’re prepared. And if they perform to their capabilities, great. But we’re not going to plan on that. So let’s evaluate our team on the low end rather than the high end. After going through that for a few years, we were better to prepare that way.
Of course, Rasmus and his unfulfilled potential could be viewed in much the same way as Gose, in light of those words. And pretty soon, without significant improvement on what we’ve seen since the day his acquisition was heralded as yet another slice of Greek ninja-genius, Colby’s glass is going to start looking awfully empty.
While Colby may be lucky if the club suddenly this winter decided to view Gose as a contingency, rather than a reason to move him along, that sentiment can’t be counted on to last forever. I still think Gose needs to answer huge questions with his bat before we’ll see any kind of switch, but there’s also the possibility of Emilio Bonifacio moving out to centre, should Rasmus struggle badly, so… the talking heads might actually be right on that count– though I hardly think it’s the given they suggest. And the Globe might have reason to openly wonder what makes the enigmatic Rasmus tick, too. I guess I just would have preferred less othering, and less making his mental state or his veneer a discussion point– the discussion point, really– when it’s just so easy and doesn’t really give us anything new or anything tangible that might be at the root of his struggles to counter-adjust after it became clear that the league had figured him out. Like, isn’t that the real question?