Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times said something that immediately struck me as jaw-dropping yesterday in a piece contrasting Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales, when he revealed to the non-Seattle world that “For much of this season, we’ve heard a debate raging about whether the Mariners should try to sign Morales long-term, to a contract that would range anywhere from $15 million to $20 million per annum.”
Later in the afternoon Dave Cameron of FanGraphs tweeted a link that showed how over the past 365 days, Morales and Carlos Beltran have, quite surprisingly, been essentially the same hitter. Of course… Beltran actually plays defence (though not particularly well these days, according to UZR and DRS), and signed a deal for $13-million per year two winters ago– reportedly turning down more money from the Jays– so I’m not sure where $20-million figure is coming from.
Apart from that last aside, how is that relevant to us? Well, it turns out that the numbers for Beltran and Morales over year-long span are strikingly similar to the ones put up by a certain Jays player this year. Have a look:
Carlos Beltran: .273/.324/.488, .347 wOBA, 122 wRC+
Kendrys Morales: .267/.326/.468, .343 wOBA, 121 wRC+
Jays Player X: .250/.323/.476, .346 wOBA, 118 wRC+
The Jays player, as anyone who read the title of this post will have guessed, is Colby Rasmus. And he is currently headed toward his final year of arbitration before hitting free agency full-on after the 2014 season.
Of course, we can’t quite say that he’s in the company of those two hitters just yet, I don’t think. The numbers for Rasmus above include a not insignificant measure of what appears to be batted ball luck, and only half the number of plate appearances. Plus, if we’d done this exercise at last season’s All-Star break, his stats would have looked almost exactly the same (.259/.328/.494, .349 wOBA, 120 wRC+), though we know now that they were about to go into the absolute shitter.
On the other hand, though, Rasmus brings youth, health, and strong defence at a premium position to the table, leading one to wonder that if Beltran, heading into his age-35 season, was worth $13-million per year, and Morales, who’ll be 31 next year, is being discussed by somebody (not necessarily anybody sane, but somebody) as netting something along the lines of $15- ir $20-million, uh… what the hell is Rasmus worth?
We touched on this a little bit during our most recent podcast, and frankly, it’s scary. At least, it is right at this moment, while he’s playing so well. Naturally the equation will change should he go to shit again, and that’s not entirely out of the question– it wasn’t just last year that he suffered a second half swoon, as in 2011 he hit the break with a .246/.329/.413 line, a .328 wOBA and 108 wRC+, then posted an ungodly wRC+ of 50 in the second half. But if he doesn’t… if he continues this pace…
As of today, assuming the Nationals pick up their $9-million club option on Denard Span, according to MLBTR’s 2015 Free Agents list, entering his age-28 season, Rasmus would be indisputably at the head of a three-man crop of free agent centre fielders. Indisputably, I say, because the other two listed are Tony Gwynn Jr. and Emilio Bonifacio (though, granted, some guys they have listed as corner outfielders might be passable up the middle, but… not really).
So, thanks to the way that talent has become more and more scarce on the market, an in-form Rasmus reaching free agency stands to do pretty well for himself. It also appears that will be true thanks to some recent precedents that are very friendly to Colby and his Mr. 10%.
Like… B.J. Upton is fucking terrible. His best season since 2008 was 2011, in which he posted a .243/.331/.429 line, with a .333 wOBA and 113 wRC+. In other words, not quite as good as Rasmus is going now.
And if you compare the two defensively, while Upton has been better by UZR/150 over his career in centre (3.9 to 1.2), Rasmus has a clear advantage by DRS– +11 over 5090 innings (+2.2 per 1000 innings) to Upton’s -34 over 7688 (-4.4 per 1000 innings).
Since Rasmus debuted in 2009, he’s produced 10.3 WAR, per Baseball Reference, compared to 7.3 for Upton. Using FanGraphs’ metric, Upton has the edge over that span, 12.5 to 11.3, but obviously they’re pretty close. They’ve also both been rather inconsistent at the plate, yet have managed to end up with similar career lines: .249/.331/.414, with a .327 wOBA and a 104 wRC+ for Upton, and .244/.314/.429, with a .323 wOBA and 100 wRC+ for Rasmus.
Colby is, nearly to the day, two years younger than Upton, so that rather paltry career line is all he needs to maintain in order to steam into free agency at the same age, and as essentially the same player as Upton was when he landed there this past winter, before the Atlanta Braves jumped at the chance to hand him a five-year, $75-million contract.
There are others…
Angel Pagan (age 31, 4 years, $40-million)
Career: .280/.332/.420, .327 wOBA, 103 wRC+, -1.2 UZR/150, +0.9 DRS/1000 innings
Walk year: .288/.338/.440, .334 wOBA, 113 wRC+
Michael Bourn (age 30, 4 years, $48-million)
Career: .273/.338/.365, .313 wOBA, 93 wRC+, +11.2 UZR/150, +9.7 DRS/1000 innings
Walk year: .274/.348/.391, .326 wOBA, 104 wRC+
Shane Victorino (age 32, 3 years, $39-million)
Career: .276/.340/.428, .337 wOBA, 104 wRC+, +3.2 UZR/150, +2.4 DRS/1000 innings
Walk year: .255/.321/.383, .310 wOBA, 94 wRC+
Now, we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples here– obviously Bourn provides a tonne of defensive value that Rasmus doesn’t– but there’s a halfway decent chance that, should Colby get to free agency, he’s in this ballpark. And that’s a ballpark with deals that average four years and $50.5-million to similar guys who are, on average, over two years older than Rasmus will be when he reaches free agency.
There’s another, perhaps scarier, precedent we could look at, too. Scarier, at least, in terms of the resources a player might tie up– especially since we’re already looking at deals in the neighbourhood of the $14-million per year Jose Bautista makes.
In the middle of last season a team signed a large extension with a centre fielder who was, like Rasmus is this year, in his next-to-last year of arbitration. He was, like Rasmus, in his age-26 season.
Shall we try a little Player A/Player B with his career numbers and Colby’s, keeping in mind that our mystery man actually had a career year last season and is exactly in line with his career norms this? Let’s!
Player X: .279/.322/.455, .337 wOBA, 106 wRC+, -4.5 UZR/150, -18 DRS, 123 HR (876 G), .175 ISO
Rasmus: .244/.314/.429, .323 wOBA, 100 wRC+, +1.2 UZR/150, +11 DRS, 92 HR (654 G), .186 ISO
For every 150 games in his career Rasmus has produced 2.6 WAR by FanGraphs and 2.4 by Baseball Reference. And the mystery player? 2.4 and 2.9.
Not exactly a cavernous gulf of difference, huh? Especially if you think that Colby can maintain a level above the career norms dragged down by awful second halves in 2011 and 2012. Given that his struggles seem almost the exclusive domain of the second half of seasons, however, Colby has to be considered as being at a high point right now. Then again, so was Adam Jones when the Orioles inked him to a six-year, $85-million extension.
Granted, when the Orioles inked Jones to that deal he was being paid about $1.5-million more than Rasmus makes this year, and was as hot as he’s ever been as a hitter, and was therefore putting himself in line for a bigger payout in the arbitration year they were buying out than Rasmus will be this winter. Perhaps more importantly, in his career he had avoided the Colby-esque peaks and valleys and had actually been consistent at the plate, posting wOBAs of .343, .336, and .338 in the seasons preceding the one he signed in.
So… they’re different. And I’m not saying that I think the Jays are about to offer Rasmus the Adam Jones contract– nor am I saying that they should– but that’s the territory we’re kind of thinking about here, and… holy shit, that’s a lot of money.
With that in mind, as much, lately, as I’ve been been a bit dismissive of Anthony Gose, both on Twitter and on podcasts– which I do think is understandable given the step backwards he seems to have taken at the plate this year, and his over 2,700 plate appearances as a pro without yet figuring this whole hitting thing out– it’s… man. How many years of cheap control does he have left??? What else could the Jays do with difference in resources????? Because… holy hell… Colby’s gonna get paid.
At least, if he can manage to maintain the kind of production we’ve seen from him so far this year– or something thereabouts– he is.
And he’ll create for the Jays a hell of a decision to make in the process– not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
One wonders, though, if the club will keep on hedging its bets on him and Gose, keeping them both around through this month’s trade deadline, despite the fact that either one might make an interesting chip to help fill one of the club’s many glaring holes. If they think they can eventually get Rasmus under contract for less than some of the other deals we’ve looked at, I’d think probably so. If not, maybe Gose’s time is coming sooner than we think.
That may sound counterintuitive given his performance in Buffalo thus far, but looking at the precedents it’s hard to think anything but that Rasmus may be making himself more expensive than a lot of people realize.
Unfortunately, that’s largely because Colby’s career has been so volatile, in terms of production, if the Jays were amenable to an extension, the longer they wait the more expensive he may make himself. Or– much like their spring conundrum with Josh Johnson– the complete reverse may be true. It may be too risky to extend Rasmus without at least these next three months of additional data, but that itself carries a lot of risk.
Alex Anthopoulos has become fond of saying that the Jays are less worried than they used to be about locking up players to long-term deals early in the process, because they insist they’ll have the resources to keep the players they need to, but– especially with Gose perhaps faltering– Rasmus may be about to put that theory to the test in a very serious way. The next three months for him, and for his place on the club, look to me like they’ll be pretty fucking crucial.