colby

In this guest post from Kyle Matte we get a look at what the future holds for Colby Rasmus, as he begins his final season before free agency, and whether the Jays can keep him. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

When Major League Baseball’s newest Collective Bargaining Agreement was under discussion, both sides acknowledged that the Type A/Type B free agent compensation system needed to be re-worked. It put numerous players in a position where their leverage was being artificially hauled down by a mechanism that offered them little to no benefit. The acceptance of arbitration would at best gain them a one-year deal, and because of the way salary escalation was handled, even the best players were looking at maybe a 20% raise on their previous year’s earnings. Always seeking the security of a long term deal, the offer was almost universally declined.

The two sides came up with the Qualifying Offer – a way to protect teams from losing elite free agents for nothing, while limiting the number of mid-tier free agents carrying draft pick compensation because of the hefty figure involved: a one year deal with a guaranteed salary equal to the average of the top 125 players in all of baseball. Part of that plan has certainly come to fruition. Heading into 2011, 83 free agents had draft pick compensation attached: 33 Type A, 50 Type B. In the two years since the Qualifying Offer was implemented, just 9 and 13 free agents have felt the draft pick noose hung around their neck. What likely wasn’t a part of the plan is that the non-elite free agents still being tagged are finding a market more unwelcoming than ever before, as front offices have proven increasingly protective of their draft picks and bonus money. Some fault must be placed on the agents for misreading the market their clients were jumping head-first into, but any system that prevents above average talent like Stephen Drew from finding legitimate, fair contracts is obviously flawed. Kendrys Morales: there are simply no words for your decision making process.

This system is relevant to Toronto, as come the end of the 2014 season, one of our own will be marching into free agency: Colby Rasmus. Mind you, we thought much the same last year, and we saw how that turned out with Josh Johnson. The situation with Rasmus is different, however, for two main reasons. The first is that he’s been healthy; his 458 plate appearances in 2013 were a career low, and he still had his most productive output. The second is that he’s a position player. Of the 22 players to receive qualifying offers, 16 have been of the non-pitcher persuasion. Teams have, perhaps wisely, been especially wary of spending big on free agent pitchers the last couple of years.

Beyond his health and non-pitcher status, Rasmus has a number of things working in his favor. Colby will be just 28 years old on Opening Day 2014, which would tie him with B.J. Upton as the youngest free agent to receive the Qualifying Offer. Additionally, he’s already displayed an elite-level peak. His 4.8 fWAR in 2013 places him in the company of Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-SooChoo, Michael Bourn, Curtis Granderson, and Mike Napoli as players who exceeded 4.5 fWAR in any of the three seasons leading up to their free agency. Finally, Rasmus plays an up-the-middle position (catcher, second base, shortstop, center field). Seven signed players met that criteria, and the average contract from that group was an astounding 6 years and 113 million. That is not a prediction of what he will make, merely a guarantee that barring a meteorically catastrophic 2014 season, Colby Rasmus will receive a Qualifying Offer from the Toronto Blue Jays, and he will decline it.

With that being said, using the data given to us over the past two winters we can identify an array of possibilities for Rasmus’ free agent contract, dependent upon how he performs is 2014. In the table below, you’ll see the contract year and three year fWAR production for all 22 free agents to receive the offer over the past two winters, and the contract figures for the 20 who agreed to terms. In the graph just below that, you’ll see a plot of the average annual salary compared to the three year cumulative fWAR. Interestingly, the data shows a pattern.

Rasmus Article Table

 

(Click to embiggen.)

Rasmus Article Graph

For those curious, the outlier point is Michael Bourn, who received a contract that paid just 12 million annually despite a reasonable age (30), strong track record, and the highest contract year fWAR at 6.2. A best fit line was generated with the equation of y = 732,847x + 8,000,000, where x is the cumulative three year fWAR and y is the average annual salary of the new contract. This equation allows us to start inputting values into x to determine what type of annual salary Rasmus could receive next winter.

We already have Colby’s “Previous Year fWARs”, as he produced 4.8 and 1.1 fWAR in 2013 and 2012, respectively. That gives us a base value of 5.9 fWAR from which to start adding hypothetical 2014 production. Despite twice falling below the value, I’m forecasting the low end of Rasmus’s 2014 at 2.0 fWAR. He’s a good base runner and an excellent defender, so it would take a miserable showing on the offensive side to fail to achieve that plateau. Not impossible, but highly improbable. We’ll calculate a new annual salary at 1.0 fWAR increments up to 6.0 fWAR, which I’ll set as the upper echelon for attainable Colby Rasmus production. It’s not farfetched; Rasmus was on a 6.1fWAR/150 game pace last season, so he doesn’t even need to improve, just stay healthy.

2014 fWAR

3 Year Cumulative fWAR

Expected Annual Salary

2.0

7.9

$13,800,000

3.0

8.9

$14,500,000

4.0

9.9

$15,300,000

5.0

10.9

$16,000,000

6.0

11.9

$16,700,000

14 million sounds like an awful lot, particularly on the low end, but the money flowing into baseball is at heights never before reached, and it has become roughly the norm for mid-tier outfielders – a label Rasmus would likely wear should he take a step back from 2013. The 7.9 cumulative fWAR would place him between Brian McCann (8.3) and Ubaldo Jimenez (6.6) on the Qualifying Offer leaderboard, and those two players received five years (plus a vesting option) and four years respectively. Given his age relative to those two, surely Colby could find teams willing to offer a guaranteed four years, and a fifth year club option with a significant buyout might be what gets the deal signed. A contract valued at 4 years and 56 million with a fifth year option worth another 14 million (5 million buyout) feels about right.

The next plateau we’ll inspect is the 4.0 to 5.0 fWAR pairing, resulting in cumulative values in the 10 to 11 fWAR range. Production at that level translates to roughly 16 million annually, and given the back-to-back elite seasons Rasmus would be coming off, he’ll have earned himself some serious term. B.J. Upton seems like the most appropriate comparable given his age, but Upton failed to reach 4.0 fWAR in any of his three seasons leading up to free agency. He’d settled in as an above average player; not the star Colby’s agent would rightfully market him as in this scenario. Rasmus would undoubtedly receive offers of six years in length, and the winning bid seems likely to break the 100 million dollar figure in total value.

Should Rasmus reach or exceed 6.0 fWAR in 2014, I’m not sure the best fit line carries nearly as much weight. As you can see on the table above, the three highest fWAR free agents – Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, and Jacoby Ellsbury – all received annual salaries well above what the system expects. Simply put, superstars are beyond the rules. The best fit line becomes more like the expected floor than a realistic projection. Given that Ellsbury and Choo received seven years at ages 30 and 31 respectively, that would be the starting point in term for 28 year old Colby Rasmus. If you apply the 16.7 million dollar salary calculated above, you’re looking at a commitment of 117 million just to get your foot in the door, and his agent could reasonably ask for something between Choo’s 130 million and Ellsbury’s 153 million. Eight guaranteed years at a lower annual salary (18 million) is within the realm of possibility, for a total value of 144 million.

With a 4.0fWAR or better 2014 season Rasmus seems poised to be a six-plus year player, and the first true test of The Policy. Should it be as big of a roadblock as many of us are starting to fear (thanks, Paul Beeston), Alex Anthopoulos has two avenues from which to approach this situation. The first method is something that he’s done with a number of his burgeoning superstars – take on some risk and re-sign them before they walk. Jose Bautista was extended the winter before his free agency, and more recently, Edwin Encarnacion was granted a three year deal in the summer before bidding season began. Should Colby look like Colby through the first couple of months, perhaps the team approaches Rasmus with a five year extension on top of his existing contract – announced as a five year deal on paper, but a six year deal in reality. With just one season of truly elite production under his belt, he might be enticed by the safety and security of a B.J. Upton-type contract – 5 years, 75 million. The second avenue is something the front office has frequently talked about but failed to execute; getting a free agent to sign with a higher salary on a shorter deal. If Rasmus stays healthy, dominates like he’s capable of, and reaches the open market, could he be tempted by a five year deal that pays 20 million per season? How high they’d need to go depends on how well he plays, which makes this a very precarious proposition, particularly with just Anthony Gose on the depth chart in center field.

Rogers Communication is one of the richest owners – if not the richest – in all of Major League Baseball, and the Blue Jays have truckloads of money coming off the books over the next couple of seasons. Colby Rasmus might be the best barometer of just how committed they are to winning, as the analysis above offers a glimpse into just how much money he’s going to start costing. Will the organization fight to keep their star in the fold, or will they let him walk simply because he became too good? It’s one thing to be timid about committing to an unknown; it’s something else to shy away from one of your own. Next offseason is already looking like an interesting one, and here’s hoping it’s for the right reasons.

Comments (45)

  1. Great piece, Kyle! Always look forward to these pieces that break down stats and provide an appealing narrative.

    The amount of people that see Rasmus as a terrible center fielder because of a lack of RBI’s and because he happens to strikeout a ton (no mention of walks, of course) is always so disheartening. There may be outrage if he signs a big extension AND if he walks, from opposite sides of the fence.

    Front office management might be in a lose/lose situation, here.

  2. Well done Kyle.
    Although Melky is also a FA at years end.
    Can the Jays or will the Jays re-sign both or one or none?
    Gonna be interesting if Melky continues to rake and where the Jays are at.

    • Great piece Kyle.

      I echo Radar’s comment. Would rather see the Jays focus on Melky. Dunno if the brass will support extension offers for Colby AND Melky.

      With Gose looming, do the Jays feel motivated to back up the Brinksmanship truck for Colby?

      Would love to see the Jays retain both Melky and Colby (my confidence in Gose isn’t very high). But realistically, I doubt the fuckers at Rogers willing to dole out the cash to do both.

      If the Jays lose Colby and Melky, the outfield will suddenly look very average, if that.

  3. So what’s the story with Drew? Is he a pipe dream? My understanding is that interest in him will be tepid until June as a result of the draft pick that gets forfeited. The Jays on the other hand have a need and my understanding is a one year deal would be attractive to both parties. So why not do it?

    • It’s not just the Jays.
      Maybe the price is too high.Nobody really knows.
      Boras said Drew doesn’t mind moving to 2nd as long as it’s for more than one year and not temporary.

    • Jays lose a lot of leverage by now being desperate for help up the middle. They also don’t want to deal with Boras or, apparently, spend money. Don’t bank on it, even thought that’s obviously utterly dumb of this organization.

    • Yeah, I’ve come around to the anyone-but-Goins camp after seeing the stuff Goins swings at. I’m still not sure that Drew is good enough or cheap enough, though.

      It’d be kinda nice if Yunel Escobar was still here, no?

    • Christ can we please get off this Stephen Drew pipedream? It’s not going to happen.

  4. I’d give the money to the melkman

  5. Great piece of work, Kyle! Interesting read and commentary and gives Stoeten some rest.
    You almost have me convinced we should sign him immediately…..but uhh not yet.
    I think I am sane and not just being dogmatic but I still am not a great Rasmus fan. While I had him pegged as a fukstik based on his first couple of years here, he did perform admirably last year, as you so excellently point out and got out of that category.
    Nonetheless, not being a quant, but an ol time BBAll guy with eyes only, I still do not think he is that great a CF based on what I see. Colby has a very weak arm for a CF and, already this year, we have seena few balls hit over his head that stayed in the park. His routes to balls are not top notch IMO and yes he strikes out far too much ( he will likely be in the top 5 in the league for whiffs) and a really good BABIP last year helped him tremendously with the avg and masked what could have been a poor year.
    There will be many who do not agree, but I would have traded him in the offseason as I think his worth will diminish and I would not be giving him a 100m contract either.
    Personally I think if Melky rebounds more towards what he did in SF ( say .300avg, 15hr, 10sb or so) and decent D then the BJs may try to extend him , but not Colby.
    Now, back to my merlot

  6. Good article.

    While I get the WAR comparison to those other players referenced, IMO he simply strikes out too much, struggles to hit .270, and doesn’t walk enough to warrant an $85M plus payday. That must be better places to spend that money (assuming Rogers even makes it availalbe to spend). Sure, I’d love to have Cletus at a reasonable price, but I suspect my idea of reasonable will be much different than the market’s. And, of course, the Blue Jays, but that’s another story…

  7. I hear a lot about the payroll flexibility for years to come. However, when you look at all the option years and arbitration for 2015 and 2016 it’s not as much as many think. When you just look at Cott’s it looks like a lot.

    Question: Is it better to sign Rasmussen or let Gose play center and address LF and 2B?

    What do you do with Melky?

  8. I could see a team giving Rasmus 7 years at an annual salary similar to one on the chart you have with the various WAR outputs for 2014. I really hope the Jays don’t give him an extension like this. If $135 mil payroll is our cap, I’d like to see Gose in center field and the jays spend the money on Melky on a 3 year deal with options for a 4th and 5th year.

  9. When you add in all the options and arbitration it’s already $130 million for 2015.

  10. PLEASE stop using exclamation marks when mentioning the team policy on contracts in excess of 5 years. It’s a real thing, the team has acknowledged it several times as has all MSM.

    • So then I guess you are willfully ignoring all the tines they have said the 5 year policy is BS right?

  11. Meant to say quotation marks there. Point still stands.

  12. Extending Rasmus will be the best move the Jays make all year.

    • They need to lock Melky up too. Why fuck around if you’ve got the talent in house, especially when there’s no one waiting in the wings to step up.

      • Agreed, I have an unhealthy amount of love for Lord Melkington and that syrupy sweet swing.

        • Trust me, it’s healthy. He’s going to kick ass this year. If they don’t lock up Cletus and Melky, it’s just more question marks next year.

          • Pre-fucking-cisely. I’m not seeing how Gose isn’t the CF version of Goins with better wheels.

            There are enough holes to fill without creating new ones.

      • i’d lock him up if possible, he looks fantastic out there

  13. Game threat, Stoeten?

  14. Good read, hopefully we can cut a discount with Colby in-season.

    • very unlikely

      • Then offer him market value. But what is market value? With the draft pick dragging down his total value, then does that become the new market value? Or am I overvaluing the valuations?

  15. Colby is one of those players I just want to keep watching in a Toronto uniform. We’re either the Rays/A’s or we’re not. No more of this fence-sitting horse shit.

    • I like Rasmus too. He needs to take better angles to the ball in CF and stop trying to pull the ball to right field when he’s at bat. Someone on the team needs to sit him aside and tell him that it’s OK to hit the ball to other areas of the outfield, not just right field.

  16. AA was on FAN590 this morning and seemed to hint that they are already in discussions.

    Part that worries me… Colby is not a Boras client, but seems to have a Boras-like father.

  17. We all like Rasmus and he’s a pretty nifty center fielder. He’s going to commabd 100+ million on the open market. If AA can lock him up for less it’s a coup.

    The biggest question, in my mind, as Colby’s play at the plate can be rather polarizing…IS HE WORTH IT? Even at 80 million…is that a good play?

    I have no clue what the answer to that question is. I imagine 2014 will tell us a lot and Colby would do himself and the Jays organization a lot of good by getting off to a solid start.

  18. All these equations make my head spin. Is it a prerequisite that all baseball fans be math people?

  19. Why are the Jays and Rasmus so content on him pulling the ball all the time? He’s got enough power to drive the ball to left field AND he should be doing it routinely. The guy should be hitting for a higher average and power together with his talents. His OBP would be considerably higher. He strikes out too much because he’s looking for a pitch to drive to right field. Why not go with the pitch and put decent wood on it rather than trying to turn it over and pull it?

  20. At the end of 2014 they’re going to have 2 unsigned fielders, both of whom are (for the Jays) almost impossible to sign on the FA market. Even if they had a replacement level AAA player he’d have to spend the obligatory 2-3 years to adjust to the majors. Unless they can trade for an MLB ready fielder at the deadline or draft a Mike Trout, they need to sign one or both or suffer the consequences.

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